Denver Public Schools is trying to squelch a grass-roots Hispanic group – which opposes the district’s bilingual program – by urging two groups to quit funding it. Padres Unidos used ”mean- spirited lies and imagery to further a political cause” in leaflets sharply critical of school board member Lee White, said a letter from DPS public information director Mark Stevens.
”We assume that you would rather not support a group that relies on such tactics,” said the letter sent to the local Chinook Foundation and the National Council of La Raza in Washington. Stevens said DPS wants the two groups to consider cutting money from Padres Unidos, which operates on about $ 50,000 a year. That will not happen, said Mike Roque, executive director of Chinook. The organization funds small groups that tend to be controversial or confront powerful institutions like DPS. ”It makes us more resolved to support them,” Roque said. ”They (DPS) are trying to undermine a group because it’s a critic.” Ricardo Martinez, director of Padres Unidos, said the DPS pressure has helped. ”People who support us, support us even more now,” he said. The Council of La Raza, a national advocacy group, received the letter but spokeswoman Monica Higuera was unsure of the organization’s response. The flyer featured White’s picture, saying he had obstructed justice and discriminated against pupils with limited English skills. That allegation was part of complaints made last year against the district by the civil rights office of the U.S. Department of Education. The federal agency disagrees with aspects of the DPS bilingual program and has urged the Justice Department to sue. ”We can no longer tolerate unaccountable and ineffective political hacks, like Lee White, to waste our tax dollars,” the flyer said. Flyers also encouraged votes against a DPS bond issue likely to be on the Nov. 3 ballot. ”It was inflammatory to the point of ridiculous,” Stevens said. The Council of La Raza teamed up recently with Padres Unidos to pressure DPS to keep children in bilingual classes longer. Padres works in lower-income neighborhoods to assist parents with school-related matters. Chinook has given Padres Unidos grants for three years totaling less than $ 15,000, Roque said.