Students Threaten to Demonstrate at Centinela Schools : Education: Organizers say they hope the protests will force school board members to deal with student allegations of racism.
Two months after walkouts at the Centinela Valley Union High School District and a few weeks before summer break, a group of students under the guidance of former Hawthorne Police Sgt. Don Jackson have announced plans for a series of demonstrations against alleged racism at the schools.
Jackson and Malcolm Ratliff, a black student who claims responsibility for organizing the two student walkouts early in March, said they were recruiting students for an informational picket at Hawthorne and Leuzinger high schools Monday afternoon. A student said Wednesday night that flyers were passed out during an open house Wednesday evening at Hawthorne High School.
For the record:
12:00 AM, May. 06, 1990 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday May 6, 1990 South Bay Edition Metro Part B Page 4 Column 1 Zones Desk 2 inches; 66 words Type of Material: Correction
Jackson Retirement--Don Jackson, a former sergeant in the Hawthorne Police Department, was granted a disability retirement in February, 1989, after being found “psychologically unfit” to return to work. Jackson, who had gone on disability leave two years earlier, sought the retirement for stress he said was connected to racial harassment and discrimination within the department. A story in the South Bay edition May 4 said he had resigned while on disability leave.
Monday’s planned demonstration, is to let board members know “this is the last chance we’re giving you guys to listen to us,” said Ratliff, an 18-year-old Leuzinger senior.
The picketing is scheduled during the students’ lunch break so that students will not have to miss class to attend, Ratliff said. The students don’t intend to stop at picketing, he added, saying they are also organizing a trip to Sacramento to speak with state Department of Education officials.
Jackson, a black community activist, and several students said plans for the protest were prompted by several issues, including the school board’s decision to cancel two of its next four semimonthly meetings and its attempt to place Kenneth Crowe, the popular black Hawthorne High School principal, on medical leave.
The predominantly Latino school board decided two months ago to cancel some meetings and replace them with small, private sessions with members of the public, said Pam Sturgeon. In accordance with open meeting guidelines that prohibit elected bodies from making decisions in private, no more than two board members will be present at any meeting, Sturgeon said.
As part of the planned protests, Jackson said he is trying to recruit students and parents to join him in picketing the homes and workplaces of board members. Jackson, who claimed he had been a victim of racial discrimination within the Hawthorne Police Department, resigned after being placed on disability leave in 1988.
“This is kind of an extraordinary measure, and I wouldn’t take it except that they have played ostrich at board meetings (and) have been completely non-responsive,” Jackson said.
The board’s decision to cancel the May 8 and June 12 meetings was made at a closed session about a week after the student walkout.
It came in the wake of several heated board meetings during which some members of the audience insulted the board, said Sturgeon. The two most recent meetings were adjourned early after questions about Crowe’s status turned into yelling matches between some spectators and trustee Michael Escalante.
“The board has been eager to address (students’) concerns,” Escalante said. “But when they start yelling at the board, the board can’t take it anymore.”
Sturgeon said: “Why should we be abused like that more than once a month?” The get-togethers would give “people the opportunity to sign up and talk to us” in private, she said.
Nevertheless, the board’s action has been criticized by the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People and a community group called the Committee for Racial Free Education. In a joint statement issued this week, they raised questions about the legality of substituting informal, private sessions for regular open meetings, and they promised to investigate.
“The proposed format for hearing the concerns of the public is an insult to the democratic process,” the public trust and raises questions about the board’s “motives against the African-American citizenry in general,” the statement said.
However, board members said they were advised that they are legally obligated to hold only one public session a month, not the two it had traditionally scheduled.
The first of the private sessions is set for May 8 between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. in district offices. No more than six people will be allowed to attend each session, which are slated to run for half an hour. The sessions will be closed to the media.
About 25 people have signed up for the sessions so far, said Supt. McKinley Nash.
Students planning to stage the protests, and members of the NAACP and the Committee for Racial Free Education said they will boycott the sessions.
Students involved in the planned protest said their demands include the suspension of a Hawthorne teacher who they say used racial epithets against minority students and the firing of Centinela Valley Secondary Teachers Assn. President Nancy Nuesseler.
Some parents and students began calling for Nuesseler’s removal last year after she described district Supt. McKinley Nash during a meeting of union members in November as a “Stepin Fetchit” for state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig.
Nuesseler met with Nash on April 16 and apologized to him.
However, the teachers association issued a statement the next day saying Nuesseler had tried to apologize to Nash last year but that the superintendent “was not prepared to receive Ms. Nuesseler’s statement at that time.”
Nash, who says he has already accepted her apology, denies that he refused to meet with her and has asked her to explain the union statement at the board meeting May 22.