By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"He got tired of waiting," Fails recalls. "He pointed it at the two of us and fired off a round."
Fortunately, the shot missed. Fails later learned that police arrested the youth in the shooting death of a Pleasant Grove man that very day. A shaken Fails waited to hear from Lincoln's administration. Maybe there would be paperwork to fill out. At the very least, he thought, they would inquire about his well-being. But not a single Lincoln or DISD administrator ever discussed the shooting incident with him, he says.
Lewis' waffling on policies and decisions led one teacher to request a transfer after only one semester. Freshman history teacher Jennifer Martin, who is white, started at Lincoln in January 1996. "I started on a Monday, and by Wednesday I decided I was going to quit [eventually]," she says. "I never saw anything like what I saw at Lincoln. Never."
Martin, 29, had taught two years at an inner-city school in Houston before joining Lincoln. She grew up in inner-city Philadelphia.
Martin describes Lincoln students as completely out of control. Frequent fights in the hallways caused students to leave class en masse. Students banged on glass partitions that separated the classrooms from the hallway, screaming at the top of their lungs. One teacher warned Martin never to let a student walk behind her.
A white male teacher approached Martin with a suggestion that sickened her. "'Take 'em in, sit 'em down, and shut 'em up. If someone comes around, act like you're teaching them, then send them home,'" Martin says he told her. "'As long as you think you are going to teach them, you are fooling yourself.'"
Martin ignored the advice--but admits she struggled to gain control of some of her classes. If she asked students to quiet down, they'd tell her to shut up. On her second day, she ended up crying in the principal's office. Lewis told her that the children's behavior would not be tolerated. To prove it, he gave Martin's entire third-period class conference forms, which meant the students would not be able to return to class until their parents showed up for a meeting with the teacher.
"He took my little pinkie in his and said, 'We are going to do this the old-fashion way,'" Martin recalls. "'Promise me you won't leave.'"
Parents came in for their conferences, all of them concerned about their children's reported behavior. But the children changed completely in their parents' presence. "When they were sitting in front of their mothers, they were like, 'Yes, ma'am, no, ma'am,'" Martin says. Many of the "parents" were actually grandparents, she adds, who admitted having their own troubles controlling the children.
On Martin's third day, Dean Evelyn Akram approached her with a gentle rebuke. "I was a little surprised that you didn't know your students' names," Martin says Akram told her.
The criticism stung. "I had been there two days! I had kids with names like Shaquilla, Tamika, Laqualla--names I never heard before," Martin says. "I had one guy in the back of the class saying 'here' for everybody."
A few weeks later, Martin reported a student to the principal's office for cursing her. "I asked him to be quiet, and he responded, 'Fuck you, you big-mouth bitch.'" The student, she says, got a mere verbal warning for his behavior. Martin says she couldn't believe it when a few days later, the school suspended another young man for two days. His transgression: showing up at school without any socks.
But Martin says the last straw came in April during a series of well-documented episodes with a 14-year-old student we'll call Kevin (not his real name).
Martin says Kevin had taken an instant dislike to her. Then he began threatening to kill her, she says. He made it very clear that he did not like white people, and specifically did not like Martin. "The kid would say he was going to kill me. [He'd say] I was white and he was black and I was racist. He'd tell the other students, 'See, she wants to flunk all the black people,' which was nonsense, because all my kids were black."
If the boy passed Martin in the hallway, he would glare at her. If she asked him a question, he'd dismiss her with an expletive. Martin says she had turned the student in before for hitting girls in his class. She grew to fear him.
One day, after the bell rang, the student began to file out with all the other students. But when he reached the door, he turned abruptly, looked at Martin, and screamed, "Kill whitey, kill whitey, kill all the whiteys!"
Martin escorted the boy to the principal's office. When the student admitted threatening to kill his teacher, Lewis immediately ordered him expelled for the year. The police were called, and Martin reported the incident. When Vice Principal Richard Lamb asked the boy why he threatened his teacher's life, the 14-year-old answered that he did not like her because he preferred his other teacher, who is black. He didn't like white people, he explained, because whites were racist. He sobbed throughout.