The Acalanes school district placed longtime public speaking coach Sandra Maguire, 69, on paid administrative leave Friday. She is banned from all district property until an investigation of her alleged misconduct concludes, according to a letter from Frank Acojido, district director of human resources.
The disciplinary action resulted after Maguire took her team to Disneyland before the state debate championships, a trip which conflicted with state mandatory STAR testing. During the contest, Maguire also took flack for sending home a student who broke tournament rules.
Maguire said the district also reassigned her to another campus for next year and will prohibit her from teaching public speaking or attending the National Forensic League's competition in June.
That is when Maguire is slated to receive the Fifth Diamond award, one of the debate league's highest honors.
"I am close to the end of my career, but I want to go out with dignity," Maguire said. "To think it could end under such a cloud, I just can't believe it."
District Superintendent Jim Negri refused to talk about the specifics of Maguire's case. He met Monday morning with parents to hear their concerns, which they also plan to air at the Acalanes school board meeting Wednesday night.
"We will take it in consideration," Negri said.
Maguire built Miramonte High School's public speaking program from scratch after becoming a teacher at the Orinda campus in 1979. Under her guidance, the school has clinched numerous state titles and groomed dozens of state champions whose plaques line the wall of her classroom.
Every other year, the championships are held in Southern California. Traditionally, Maguire sets up a visit to a nearby theme park for students. This year, they planned a trip to Disneyland the day before competition and the district signed off on it.
But two days before leaving, Maguire received a letter from the district warning her not to take students to the theme park. John Stockton, associate superintendent for educational services, chastised Maguire for setting up the outing during school hours and in a week scheduled for state tests.
Maguire said she did not want to cancel the trip because the team already had paid more than $6,550 for airline tickets and almost $2,000 to visit Disneyland.
She moved the Disneyland excursion to after 3:30 p.m., or after school hours. Up until that time, students practiced their speeches, she said, and all students who attended the trip made up their STAR tests after returning to Miramonte.
Students and parents say Miramonte students regularly go on Disneyland trips as part of school events, without hassle. Senior Nico Kirk-Giannini, 17, president of the school's public speaking program, said he went last year with the Academic Decathlon team and in his freshman year with Latin Club.
"It's ridiculous," he said. "The swim team went to Disneyland a week before we did, and nothing happened."
Maguire believes the biggest motivation to punish her came from a parent complaint over an incident at the state tournament involving one of her students.
During the event, an opposing coach lodged a protest against one of the Miramonte students, accusing him of cheating. The student was disqualified.
Maguire said she talked to the boy's parents and arranged to send him home a day early to spare him more humiliation in front of his peers.
"I really thought it was best for him," Maguire said. "He had to go home."
After the team returned to school, Maguire told the boy's father that she did not want the boy to remain in her class.
The boy's father became angry and wrote a letter to the principal, Maguire said, leading to her paid leave.
The father, who asked that his 17-year-old son not be identified, called the matter private and unconnected to Maguire's suspension.
Meanwhile, parents and students are lobbying for Maguire's return. The district's disciplinary actions against her not only threaten her career but the team's chances at the nationals where eight students qualified to compete.
"I worked all year to qualify for the tournament," Kirk-Giannini said. "It's just not fair."
Shirley Dang covers education. Reach her at 925-977-8418 or firstname.lastname@example.org.