PICO RIVERA, Calif. — A history teacher who was videotaped telling his students that only dumb people join the U.S. military has been fired by the suburban Southern California school district where he has taught for more than 15 years.
El Rancho Unified School District President Aurora R. Villon announced Gregory Salcido’s dismissal at Tuesday night’s school board meeting. She said he would remain on unpaid administrative leave pending any appeal he might make to state officials.
In January Salcido upbraided a 17-year-old student for wearing a Marines sweatshirt to his class at El Rancho High School, telling him members of the U.S. military are “the lowest of our low.”
“We’ve got a bunch of dumb (expletive) over there,” he said during a soft-spoken but occasionally profane lecture that lasted several minutes while his students sometimes giggled. “Think about the people who you know who are over there, your stupid, frickin’ Uncle Louie or whoever.”
Villon said the small school district in the overwhelmingly Hispanic suburb of Pico Rivera has been “swamped with controversy” since a video of the remarks went viral after a family friend of the student posted it on Facebook.
Although Salcido is a tenured teacher, Villon told The Associated Press on Wednesday she is confident his dismissal will stand up, adding he crossed the line by intimidating and bullying a captive audience with his remarks.
“We’re not questioning his freedom of speech, but when we hire teachers to teach in a classroom there is a curriculum that needs to be taught,” she said. “We know that as educators our job is to develop students’ minds so that they can become critical thinkers. We cannot espouse our personal values on the students and say, ‘This is the way, this is the way that’s right.’ That is not what the classroom is about, to bully students because they have a certain ideology.”
She also said his remarks were particularly painful to hear in Pico Rivera, a once rural community that quickly became a bustling suburb after World War II when developers built thousands of affordable houses to accommodate veterans returning from the war.
“In our community there is still a very, very strong military presence,” she said.
Salcido did not respond to an email message Wednesday and his home phone rang unanswered.
He grew up in Pico Rivera himself, a city of about 63,000 residents, 90 percent of them Hispanic and located a dozen miles east of Los Angeles. He went to work at El Rancho High, his alma mater, after obtaining his teaching credential in 1999.
He is also a longtime member of the City Council who served as mayor in 2002, 2010 and 2015.
Since his remarks went viral he has rejected fellow councilmembers’ demands that he resign. One councilmember has launched a recall petition.
Salcido was the subject of a flattering profile in the Los Angeles Times in 2002 when he made an unsuccessful bid for Congress. He told the newspaper then he wanted to inspire the same kind of passion to attend college in his students that his father had instilled in him.
On the recording he’s heard dismissing military people as not smart, adding the only ones who join are those who didn’t prepare for college.
“They’re not like high-level thinkers, they’re not academic people, they’re the frickin’ lowest of our low,” he says, quickly adding that does not make them bad people.
Salcido told the City Council last month his remarks were taken out of context, adding he was attempting to motivate an apathetic student. He declined to apologize for what he said but added he regretted offending anybody.