Picketers Say School Segregates

Protest: Demonstrators say students in bilingual classes and their parents are treated unequally at Van Nuys middle school.

SHERMAN OAKS—About 15 placard-carrying parents picketed Van Nuys Middle School on Monday morning, complaining that school administrators discriminate against non-English-speaking children and their parents.

The pickets demanded that Principal Tony Delgado resign, but he was defended by about 10 counter-demonstrators.

The protesters said that students in the bilingual programs and their parents were being segregated from their counterparts in the magnet and mainstream school programs and parents were “intimidated” to prevent them from taking part in school decision making.

“We are a LEARN school,” said parent Gloria Carroll, referring to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s reform that requires parents, teachers and staff to be consulted about school decisions.

“We are supposed to work together, but different parents are not treated equally. There are different standards” for parents of bilingual-program students, many of whom are recent immigrants with limited English skills, she said.

Protester Lucy Barrientos said Delgado discriminates against immigrant parents like herself because parents of students in the bilingual programs attend different committee meetings and receive different information from those in the other programs at the school, which has a 78% Latino enrollment.

Carroll contended that, because of the language gap, non-English-speaking parents receive no notification if their children are injured or suspended from school.

Delgado rejected the allegations, saying that many staff and faculty members–himself included–are bilingual and communications to parents are always in English and Spanish.

“It’s personally very upsetting that I, as a Latino, a Mexican American, would be accused of racism,” Delgado said. “My mother is an immigrant and naturalized citizen.”

Delgado said the protesters’ feelings of disenfranchisement are an unfortunate side effect of efforts to tailor the education process to a diverse student population, not the result of unequal treatment.

Delgado said parents of children in bilingual and magnet programs hold separate meetings because the programs receive separate state and federal funding, which comes with requirements that they have their own advisory groups. However, the school holds faculty-parent meetings every two months that are open to everyone, he said.

“We are trying to create a sense of family and community” among parents and students of the various programs, said Delgado, who has been principal for two years. “We have a long way to go in some areas and I want to address the issues.”

The principal alternated between discussing the protest with reporters and explaining his shaved head to them. He had his head shaved in front of the students to make good on a promise to do so if absenteeism decreased this school year, he said.

Protesters also raised the issue of the school’s falling scores in districtwide tests. Since the 1993-94 school year, Van Nuys Middle School has dropped seven percentile points in reading, 15 percentile points in math and 17 percentile points in language at the seventh-grade level.

Carroll said the lower test scores are proof that the school’s increasing bilingual and immigrant population is being overlooked.

“I am not happy about the test scores,” Delgado said. “But rather than asking why–I think the problems are as multiple as they are in society–I want to focus on what we are going to do about raising them.” Delgado says he has brought in advisors from Cal State Northridge to improve the school’s math curriculum.

Parent Malahat Mansouri, whose sixth-grade daughter is in the bilingual program, demonstrated in support of Delgado.

“I have never seen any discrimination against me or her,” she said. “There has been a lot of help for her and now, after six months, her writing is perfect.”

Delgado said he plans to dedicate the final parent-faculty meeting of the year, on Thursday, to addressing the protesters’ concerns.

Carroll said she is the only one of the protesting parents who is involved in any of the school decision-making committees.

“The parents don’t know of anything because they are not being informed,” she said. “At the Thursday meeting, we are hoping to inform them of all the different councils they can join and get them involved.”

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