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Fairfax High Students Stage Black Bias Protest

Times Education Writer

About 200 Fairfax High School students descended on the principal’s office Wednesday morning to protest a number of school practices that they said discriminate against black students.

Organized by the campus Black Student Union, the protest was sparked by a conflict with the administration over a talent show that the organization wanted to host for the entire school. But other complaints included poor college counseling, the cancellation of a black history course and the under-representation of blacks in school honor societies.

“We feel there is an attitude at Fairfax that is racist,” said Marcee McAfee, 18, vice president of the Black Student Union.

Student protest leaders asked for the reinstatement of the Afro-American studies class, which was canceled this semester because of low enrollment. They also called for greater contact with recruiters from black universities and issued demands relating to the quality of school life, such as increasing after-school activities and holding a schoolwide talent contest annually.

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Principal Warren Steinberg said some of the student’s demands will be immediately addressed--such as the complaint about the dropping of the black history class--while others will require further investigation.

By the end of the school day, Steinberg said he had received district approval to reinstate the course, as well as a class on the Holocaust that had also been canceled because of poor enrollment.

Steinberg said the allegations of racism troubled him, because he has worked hard to improve race relations on campus and in the community.

“This is one of the few times in my life that I have been pictured as a racist,” Steinberg said. “I am not comfortable with it, and I feel it is not justified.

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‘Issues Involved’

“I am legitimately going to deal with the issues involved,” he said. “I got some insights into some of their concerns. Now I need to find out more specifics” about the problems raised.

District spokesman Bill Rivera said he was not aware of any other protests by black students in recent years and called the Fairfax demonstration an isolated event.

The high school, located in Los Angeles’ Fairfax district, is a 60-year-old, predominantly minority school with 2,300 students. According to the district’s latest ethnic survey, the enrollment is 25% black, 15% Asian, 25% Latino and 31% white.

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Black student leaders said teachers and counselors could make a greater effort to instill black pride. Instead, they said black students often are not pushed hard enough academically and are not encouraged to take college-preparatory classes.

“I wanted to take Algebra II, but my counselor said I should take basic math,” said Patricia Savage, 18, who said she had exceptionally high scores on math achievement tests. “I went to the head counselor, and I got the class, but I shouldn’t have had to do it that way.”

Honor Societies

Savage also said the group wished that the school would place as much emphasis on integrating the campus honor societies as it does on trying to ensure that the cheerleading squad and football team are ethnically balanced.

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Kurt Marshall, 16, said school officials too often suspect black male students of wrongdoing without reasonable cause.

“Some students feel that if you’re a black walking down the hall (during class time) you’re more likely to get stopped” by school security officers and issued a penalty slip, he said. Or when a group of black students assembles anywhere on campus, “they come over and think we’re up to something. You can feel the tension. It’s like . . . you’re always being watched.”

Catherine Head, a black social studies teacher who has been on the Fairfax faculty for 13 years, said she believes that the students’ gripes are legitimate.

“There is a perception of blacks here that is not positive,” she said.

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