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Oxnard School Trustee Apologizes

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two weeks after he lost his temper during an argument over whether the Oxnard School District should oppose Proposition 187, trustee Jack T. Fowler apologized to the board and residents, saying he behaved like a “jerk.”

“I need to apologize . . . for my outburst at the last meeting, for I may have disturbed many of you and even angered some of you,” Fowler said during a board meeting Wednesday.

“I am . . . shamefaced because I lost my temper,” Fowler said. “I’m very sorry.”

Fowler’s apology came two weeks after he and three Latino residents exchanged heated remarks for nearly 45 minutes when the residents asked the board to oppose Proposition 187, which would deny most government services--including education--to undocumented immigrants.

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Fowler, who continues to support the measure, told residents and the board two weeks ago that he believes in the need for a “dominant culture” and that the recent flood of illegal immigrants entering the United States has caused serious problems.

When one resident compared his opinions to those of Adolf Hitler, Fowler berated her for five minutes.

Nina Duarte, who made the comparison, said Wednesday she still believes the trustee is a racist and thinks his apology was made only for political reasons.

“I think he meant everything he said before,” said Duarte, 40, who immigrated from Mexico to Oxnard with her parents when she was 9 years old. “He probably talked to school officials and friends and decided to improve his image.”

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But Lisa Marie Ruiz, another resident who argued with Fowler, said an apology was the least Fowler could do.

“I am glad that he apologized because he verbally abused me during that meeting,” Ruiz said. “But the right thing for him to do would have been to change his mind and oppose Proposition 187, because that is what he owes to the children in his district.”

Trustee Mary Barreto, a Latina, agreed with Duarte and Ruiz.

“I think he has to be given credit for apologizing, but that was his way of manipulating things,” Barreto said. “The real apology would have been for him to change his mind about Proposition 187 and oppose it.”

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Fowler, who has been a trustee for 21 years in the Oxnard School District, said he has no intention of changing his mind. He has received three letters and several telephone calls from residents supporting him, he said.

One of those residents was 79-year-old Catherine Mervyn, a retired teacher and an immigrant.

“He is a very courageous man to stand up for what he believes, particularly when a lot of people in the community oppose the measure,” Mervyn said. “Jack Fowler is standing up for what is right for America.”

The other board members--Susan Alvarez, Dorothie Sterling and James Suter--said their respect for Fowler increased after he apologized.

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“I thought that Jack showed tremendous courage in admitting publicly that he had behaved in an unacceptable manner,” said Suter, the board president. “Jack is the type of person who says what he thinks, and that does not make him a bad person.”

Despite Fowler’s support for the measure, the other four board members voted to oppose it.

Although the number of illegal immigrants who attend classes in the Oxnard School District is unknown, about 80% of the district’s 13,000-student enrollment is Latino. Of that group, 47% speak English as a second language or do not speak English, district figures show.


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