Woodside Spanish Teacher Brett Bowles Resigns Amidst Controversy

“You could tell he was struggling,” Woodside junior Alex Salinas stated.


Tessa Bertine

Thelma Mooney, a fill-in teacher for one of Bowles’ classes, teaches a lesson.

Holly Rusch and Noelia Arteaga

Additional reporting by Taila Lee (Co-Editor-In-Chief)

Edited by Taila Lee (Co-Editor-in-Chief), Isabella Williams (Co-Editor-in-Chief), Emma Chiu (Copy Editor), and Chloe Postlewaite (Design/Arts & Entertainment Editor)

“A person only has his [or] her reputation, especially at a relatively small school, at the end of the day,” former Spanish 3 and 4 teacher Brett Bowles told the Paw Print following his resignation from Woodside High School.

On January 18, Woodside Principal Diane Burbank stated that “Mr. Bowles has resigned and will not return to campus,” declining to comment on the reason behind his resignation.

Prior to Woodside, Bowles taught at Halstrom Academy Private High School in San Diego. According to Gay Buckland-Murray, Department Chair of World Languages at Woodside, Bowles was hired by Woodside administration in August 2018, just before classes started that same month.

Amidst the controversy surrounding his teaching practices, Bowles asserted that his resignation was due to “students calling [him] an ass wipe and anti-Semitic… consequently, [his] image, reputation, and integrity were all tarnished and completely, erroneously, portrayed.”

[My] image, reputation, and integrity were all tarnished and completely, erroneously, portrayed.”

— Brett Bowles

Still, not all students judged Bowles so harshly.

I respected his effort and how hard he tried to connect to this students,” Markus Sujansky, a sophomore in Bowles’ third-period class, said.

“I think he deserves a break… because it’s his first year [teaching at Woodside],” another student, who wished to remain anonymous, agreed.

However, some of Bowles’ students, like senior Kathryn Williams, felt that the grace period for his allegedly questionable teaching practices had passed and that his class structure and demeanor hindered learning.

Williams explained that although Bowles made understandable mistakes early in the school year, “it got to a point where [students] weren’t learning anything, but… would get tests and quizzes.” Williams eventually dropped the class during first semester.

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Other students voiced similar complaints about the lack of lesson plans.

“We were just on our computers, doing our homework, and [Bowles] would just grade papers,” junior Alex Salinas added, describing one of his class periods. “We would ask him, ‘are we going do anything today?’ and he’d say ‘no, I don’t want to do anything.’”

Junior Colby Peck, who kept a log of every incident with Bowles and was part of a petition that attempted to raise awareness about the incidents occurring in his class, described the first major instance where she believed Bowles crossed the line.

According to Peck, Sujansky brought up the Brett Kavanaugh Senate hearing during a current events warm-up, and Bowles asked if Sujansky had chosen the topic “because [my] name is Brett also? Why’d you bring it up? Do you have Tourette syndrome? Because I would let this slide. Do you have a 504 plan?”

Bowles denied this allegation, stating, “Wow. I have never said such a comment.”

“I was shocked, as was the rest of the class,” added Sujansky. Three other students also corroborated that Bowles had made remarks about Tourette syndrome.

Peck also claimed that Bowles made a suicide joke in front of his first-period class when she notified him that she had to pick up shadows (students visiting Woodside to potentially enroll the following school year) and might be late to his third-period class. She recalled that he shaped his fingers into a gun and put them to his head as he stated, “I have no reason to go on. I should just end it all.” Peck saw the remark as inappropriate and noted that “it was pretty quiet after he said that, and I just wanted to leave.”

Aside from Bowles’ suicide jokes, students also accused Bowles of being dismissive towards mental health issues in general.

“[Bowles] told me, and some other students, that our anxiety was fake and that we needed to stop being stupid and lying to him,” sophomore Yasmin Valencia recalled. “I… had multiple panic attacks and mental breakdowns in his class.”

I… had multiple panic attacks and mental breakdowns in his class.”

— Yasmin Valencia

“One day, I wasn’t understanding the material he was teaching in his class, and I explained to him that I wasn’t comfortable with the class setting [and] the way he was teaching,” an anonymous junior said. “He basically just said ‘it’s your fault that you don’t understand, and you’re just talking all class’… I just started crying, and I got really upset, and I just left.”

In another incident, sophomore Dylan Pratt felt that Bowles made him the subject of degrading jokes and comments. Pratt, who identifies as Jewish, said the comments were anti-Semitic.

Pratt provided the Paw Print with a copy of an email in which he reported Bowles’ comments to Principal Burbank. “After the first ‘joke’ he made, which was that [Jewish people] control the banks, media, and are all misers (it was more of a statement than a joke), I was in a state of shock and didn’t fully process his other remarks,” Pratt wrote.

Peck verified that Bowles called Jewish people “misers” and added that Bowles commented, “If I owned a business, I’d hire Jews and pay them less.” Two additional Woodside students have directly corroborated Bowles’ remark.

Pratt told the Paw Print that he contacted Principal Burbank after the incident because Bowles’ statements made him “rather uncomfortable and somewhat afraid to be around [Bowles].”

In response to Pratt’s allegations, Bowles stated that he feels “terribly backstabbed given the play of events,” and that he is “utterly disappointed on how [Pratt] has handled himself.”

“[Pratt] opened the conversation with a joke about his fellow Jewish people being ‘cheap,’” Bowles continued. “I retorted [by] saying ‘they also happen to be savvy with finances [and] money’ and… ‘[they] once were part of the most financially successful bankers in the world.’ I also told him Jewish comedians are my favorite because they are absolutely hilarious.”

According to Pratt, after corresponding with the administration about the incident, Administrative Vice Principal Charles Velschow allegedly spoke with Bowles. Following this conversation, Pratt told the Paw Print that Bowles pulled him aside to apologize but also didn’t “appreciate [Pratt] backstabbing [him] like this after [he] gave [Pratt] extra credit.”

Although Pratt had serious reservations about staying in Bowles’ class, Velschow told him he would be unable to transfer or drop.

In spite of the frequent complaints, Principal Burbank declined to comment about whether or not previous disciplinary actions had been taken against Bowles. She did state that overall, Woodside “investigates and then uses progressive discipline” in cases of teacher misconduct.

Another common refrain amongst students was Bowles’ policy of sporadically asking students to do push-ups after answering a question incorrectly or in exchange for using the restroom, a tactic which some students felt uncomfortable with. While some students simply refused, others completed five to ten push-ups for the bathroom pass.

Bowles explained that although the push-ups were “unconventional,” they were meant to be “an inside joke with some of [his] guy students, who got pumped about them and would jokingly call each other out to do push-ups for competition purposes.”

Devon Sheehan, a senior from his sixth-period class, recalls the unpleasant experience of doing push-ups in “spandex and a big sweater” during homecoming week. She stated that she felt “very uncomfortable… as he stopped class to focus on me.”

Video evidence of a student being asked to do pushups to receive a bathroom pass.

The controversy around the push-ups resurfaced when the popular, public Instagram account, @wwoodsidememes, which has 1,030 followers as of January 25, posted a now-archived meme about students doing push-ups in Bowles’ class. Bowles commented on the post from his personal Instagram account, writing “oh, really now,” and responding with “yeah, really, what?” to students who also commented.

@wwoodsidememes, an Instagram account that makes jokes for Woodside students, posted a meme about Bowles’ pushup policy.
Several students commented publicly on @wwoodsidememes’s post.
















The @wwoodsidememes account administrators, who often create original, light-hearted memes about teachers based on student requests, told the Paw Print that a meme about Bowles had been “highly requested by students.” Even after its deletion, there remained a point of controversy, with one student direct messaging the account admin to say they had been called into a meeting with Velschow because of their comment on the post. That student, who remains anonymous, explained to the Paw Print that in his conversation with Velschow he was “asked to delete the comment.” The student complied.

Students have varying opinions about the incidents that unfolded. Some, like Salinas, expressed sympathy for Bowles.

“He seemed like a nice guy; I felt kind of sorry for him,” Salinas said. “You could tell he was struggling, [as] it’s his first job teaching [at Woodside]… and I actually felt really bad for him.”

Since Bowles’ resignation, Spanish teacher Amy Hanson has been working with other teachers to make sure Bowles’ classes continue to learn and benefit from their elective choice. Hanson volunteered to teach his third and sixth-period classes until the administration reached a permanent solution.

“In Spanish 3, the kids already had started a unit, so we were… just continuing [the unit], and we’re all using the same lesson plans,” Hanson explained. “[For] Spanish 4, on the other hand… I created a new unit to do, and I’m… adapting as we go.” Hanson also added that “[Karen] Dorsey has taken the lead on Spanish 2.”

In addition to Hanson and Dorsey, other certified Spanish teachers, including Thelma Mooney, are currently teaching Bowles’ six classes. Meanwhile, both the administration and staff are working together to find a long-term solution to Bowles’ resignation. Principal Burbank told the Paw Print that she hopes the school “will have patience” as they look for a new teacher.

Meanwhile, Bowles has mixed feelings towards Woodside students.

“Honestly, they were [my] favorite groups of kiddos I’ve ever taught,” Bowles stated. “But, they are reckless and careless in how they go about certain things… spreading throngs of rumors, hugely misinterpreting comments they’ve heard, going behind my back to have admin and counselors to play lawyers for them instead of… handling their issues with me directly to come up with a solution.”

Despite the controversy surrounding Bowles and his resignation, staff members remain focused on the well-being of students and the collaborative nature amongst the staff.

Hanson said that she “feels really grateful that there are so many of us working together to fill his absence and we feel sad that [Bowles] left for personal reasons… but we wish him well.”