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.
“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.
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