Popular dance teacher removed from campus at Woodrow

Lisa Moya (formerly King) with dance students outside Woodrow in 2015. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Story was updated following a conversation with Ms. Moya’s attorney Mia Milton on Sept. 1.

Many in the Woodrow Wilson community credit Lisa Moya (formerly King) with building the school’s dance education and Sweethearts drill team into a thriving program that sent students to college on scholarship. The Advocate has interviewed well over a dozen Sweethearts who say the drill team was the most important piece of their high school years. But Moya’s actions with one dance student crossed the line, administrators say, leading to her removal from campus.

Sponsored Message

“An incident and a complete misunderstanding [sic],” Moya says. “I was never allowed to talk to the student and clarify, my goal was to talk to the student.”

The student is Merissa Mejia, a member of the class of 2017 and a Sweetheart during all four of her years at Woodrow. Mejia says it was state testing week at the school, when classes are often moved or rescheduled. She went to her dance class as usual, heading to the changing area to put on her dance clothes. When she came out, the room was empty and dark. She wandered the halls for a few minutes before making her way to the office to figure out where she was supposed to be. The office secretary contacted Moya and sent Mejia to a classroom near the school’s dance room.

Mejia says when she approached, Moya stuck her head out of the classroom. “She sees me and she starts yelling at me,” Mejia says, “like, ‘Get your ass in here! What are you doing?’”

When Mejia got to the door, she says Moya grabbed her by the ponytail, yanking her into the classroom.

“She started calling me ‘dense,’ saying, ‘You’re so stupid,’” Mejia says. “I felt really embarrassed, plus my head is sensitive so it hurt a lot. She makes me sit on the floor and I am crying at this point.”

Moya is unable to speak directly about the incident, because she is appealing the district’s decision. “I am a lot of fun but they know I mean business, efficiency and time management. If I get a more serious tone, the kids know when I am serious,” she says. “On that day I was seriously looking out for [Mejia].”

Mejia says she only felt humiliated. She went to see her counselor after class “because I didn’t want to walk into my next period crying. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, I didn’t want to make a report, I just wanted to get it off my chest.”

The counselor took her an assistant principal’s office, who had Mejia fill out an official incident report. Moya was removed from campus shortly thereafter. She says she was never given the opportunity to explain herself, something she blames on Principal Steve Ewing, who left the school at the end of the year (replaced by Roxanne Cheek).

Dallas ISD, like most school districts, has strict rules against physical contact with students of any kind, especially as a form of discipline. The school’s policy states, “Students shall not be spanked, paddled or otherwise physically disciplined for violations.”

A Sweetheart, who asked not to be identified since she is returning to campus next week, confirmed Mejia’s story, although she says she took Moya’s words as “meant to be funny serious,” adding that she didn’t realize Mejia was upset “until I saw her crying.”

Mejia says she was bullied so badly after the incident, she had to switch classes. “They were mad that Ms. King [Moya] wasn’t there, and blamed me for that,” she says.

The school investigated the incident. Moya says parents and students wrote letters on her behalf, encouraging the school to keep the popular dance teacher in place. She was sent a notice of termination anyway and is crestfallen.

“It is pretty painful, mostly because I have guilt,” she says. “I feel like I let people down. I’m mostly concerned about the rising seniors” whom she planned to help apply to college.

Moya’s attorney Mia Milton is representing her in an appeal, and said a district hearing was still pending, which could keep her employed by DISD.

“Because it deals with personnel we can’t really say anything about this to the press,” says Robyn Harris, director of news and information for DISD.

An email to new principal Roxanne Cheek inquiring about whether the school has replaced the dance teacher was not immediately answered.

Moya, who has children in East Dallas schools, says she plans to keep working with kids in some capacity. “I want to work with kids who have escaped domestic violence or traumatic event, and have my own space,” she says.

Mejia is heading off to the University of Texas eager to put her high school years behind her. “I’m not going to let this incident keep me from dancing,” she says.

Will Maddox contributed to this report.

Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.
Written By
More from Emily Charrier

Casa View

It was 1949 when developers Ben Tisinger and Bill Smith bought up...
Read More
  • Pingback: #FBF: The 10 most popular stories of 2017 as decided by Advocate readers - Lakewood/East Dallas()

  • Lilian

    Moya’s heart was in the right place but her actions did not show that. It’s about time that she got fired. She always played favorite with her students and treated others as if they were below her.
    She kicked off sweethearts for no good reason, intimidated students and staff. She had a bad attitude.

  • A.J

    NONE of you people know her or know what she’s been through. She is very strong and a great inspiration to many dancers. We all have our faults , but she is not a bad teacher or human being. I had her and did we always see eye to eye, no. But she always gave me an opportunity to do better. She allowed to continue with sweetheart fully knowing I was not good enough. She didn’t give up on me. She talked to me. I wish I could return the favor. Should she have said that, no. But I will always know what she did for me, dance, sweethearts, and Woodrow. She gave literally NIGHT AND DAY for the dance program. NO OTHER TEACHER AT WOODROW CAN SAY THAT. she used to sit all of the students down to talk about life, gives us advice, tell us to be and think for ourselves. She was wise, giving,passionate and a bit of a hard ass. But that was her. You didn’t know her, but I did.

  • JLH

    It doesn’t matter if Moya was the best, most perfect savior angel of a teacher (which she was not…not many are), she physically assaulted a student. There is, as it should be, zero tolerance for such acts. Teachers just cannot do that, ever. How someone regards a teacher, good or bad, doesn’t matter. The second they physically assault a student (in any capacity), is the second they throw their career out the window. There is just no way of down-playing something like that. Perfect example of a flippant decision that had a devastating consequence.

  • Nica Y Naca

    really?? she wants to work with kids that have escaped domestic violence???? with violence?? wth is wrong with this woman!! she wd be in a hospital on life support right now if that girl would have bn my daughter!

  • Chris Oranday

    It’s about time that she got fired. She always played favorite with her students and treated others as if they were below her
    She kicked off sweethearts for new good reason, intimidated students and staff with her “power”, the only thing that she succeeded at was to make students and alot of staff disgusted by her attitude.

  • Madi I

    She was definitely NOT a fair teacher and was verbally abusive to many students in my 3 years as a sweetheart. This is why many people drop out of it and I feel like everyone that’s ever been in sweethearts can attest to that. Myself and a few of my friends are the only ones that stayed out of dozens of us girls who tried out together. I wish they would have interviewed some of her older students, ESPECIALLY class of 15. She despised us for some reason.

    I can’t believe you all are sticking up for this woman and accusing the student of lying. This is why people are afraid to come out about things like this.

    I remember hearing about people writing letters in Ms. Kings favor, I was even asked to do so. It is absolutely sickening to see how many people Ms. King brainwashed. Not one person who supports her has even thought about the student this happened to. If this had been your child all of you would be in an uproar!! Yeah, she may have turned the schools dance program around, but overall she is a very mean person. Don’t let her fool you.

  • Alma

    BS, from this student…. she just want a little bit of fame.. she is lying and she is just to be better than the teacher.. that little girl needs a big time punishment for lying and never to dance again in her whole life…

  • Winnie R

    Oh she had her chance. She met with the principal and another administrator and showed no remorse for an incident which was caught, by the way, on video AND audio, and completely underplayed by her in this article. Ewing was completely incompetent as a leader, but he followed he letter of the law for all the right reasons. This woman was no saint. There are as many former Sweethearts who felt bullied by her as there are which will sing her praises.

    There’s not much to love about the district right now, but at least in this case they dismissed an abusive teacher on irrefutable evidence. Let’s go ahead and let that stand.

  • Typical DISD BS

    More scapegoat crap from DISD – they value real estate and test scores, not children nor educators. Moye is an amazing person and educator; this is a huge loss for Woodrow and the district. Shame on the board – they aren’t fit to run a donut shop.

  • Juanita C.

    It’s funny how they will not stand with a little physical incident from a teacher, but shrug off two incidents with teacher bullying while i attended.👏👏👏 good rep Woodrow.