Racial Tensions Flare in District Where Ethnic Makeup Is Changing

In the last 10 to 15 years, the ethnic makeup of the Centinela Valley Union High School District has changed dramatically. For example, in 1976 the district had about 7,000 students and was 65% white, 21% Latino, 7% Asian, 6% black and 1% American Indian or Alaskan.

Today, the district is 52% Latino, 19% white, 17% black, 8% Asian and 4% American Indian or Alaskan. Eighty-one percent of the teaching staff and 64% of the administrative staff is white.

McKinley Nash, who became superintendent of the district in 1984, said he has worked to recruit and promote black, Latino and Asian administrators, including two black high school principals.

However, in recent months there have been several examples of racial tension between members of the predominantly white teaching staff and minority administrators. During a press conference Oct. 13, Nash said the district "enjoys unusual racial harmony," yet he cited several racial incidents, which he attributed to a handful of teachers who are having difficulty accepting minority administrators.

* In April, administrators confiscated a black mannequin from a Hawthorne High School teacher who said he was using it to teach makeup techniques to a literature class. The mannequin, which is timeworn and has exaggerated features, was criticized by Nash as being inflammatory.

* Also in April, Charles Prater, a black English teacher at Hawthorne High School, received a threatening note in his mailbox after he asked administrators to include at least one book by a minority author on the English reading list.

* In September, Nancy Nuesseler, president of the Centinela Valley Secondary Teachers Assn., referred to Nash as a "Stepin Fetchit," referring to a black character in early 1930s films who fawned over his white bosses. In an interview last week, Nuesseler said she did not intend the comment to be racist and that she apologized for it at a meeting of teachers representatives.

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