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Parents Hold Protest After School Rape : Crime: Kindergartner was attacked in 66th Street building. Demonstrators complain of inadequate security measures.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Parents angered by the reported rape of a kindergartner in a bathroom of her South-Central Los Angeles school kept their children out of the classroom Friday, staging a sign-waving demonstration near the campus to protest what they claim is lax security.

The 50 parents, joined by dozens of children, began gathering outside 66th Street Elementary School as early as 6:30 a.m. to complain that the school has been ignored and become dilapidated. They said widespread crime in the neighborhood prevents their children from feeling safe in school.

“How in the hell does someone just get up in here like that?” said Debbie Velasquez, a mother of a third-grader at the school, alluding to the 16-year-old boy who was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of the rape. “What is a little kid doing going to the bathroom by herself?”

Police said the girl was raped Tuesday after being excused from class to use the bathroom. The suspect was arrested Thursday night and has confessed, police said Friday.

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Protesters marched with signs, chanting “No security, no school!” They blamed the Los Angeles school board for failing to provide funding for adequate security.

“I know that they work on a budget, but they need to work better on a budget,” said parent Susan Espinozo. “Maybe they are spending money on some things that the shouldn’t.”

African American and Latino parents overcame a language barrier and an initial distrust of each other to organize the protest.

“We’re trying to get together, Spanish and black, because we all live here,” said Frances Johnson, a black 40-year area resident who stood collecting phone numbers from her Latino neighbors.

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“I will keep my kids out as long as necessary,” said Joyce Moore, the mother of three 66th St. School students. “It’s a shame that it takes something like this to bring us all together.”

Moore said she missed work to march with her children, Damon and Timothy, 5, and Tolaina, 8.

“I’m afraid that something might happen to me, too,” Tolaina said.

Parents claimed that some security aides have been spotted smoking marijuana on the campus and allowing strangers to wander in and out of the school.

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School administrators refused to comment but did release a written statement assuring parents of their children’s safety and urging them to send their children back to class.

“We implore parents not to obstruct children from entering school and obtaining their needed education,” read a memo handed out to demonstrators by Assistant Principal Ontario V. Walker.

Police and school officials met with representatives of the parents group to inform it that police officers will patrol the school grounds until “a sense of security is returned to the school.”

“We are going to have some officers here,” said Sgt. Marsha Reyes of the LAPD’s Newton Division.

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The words of comfort came too late to appease parent Lorena Flores, who said she felt the school waited too long to inform parents of the attack, and then gave misleading information.

“This happened Tuesday and we didn’t find out until yesterday, and most of the information we got from the media,” said Flores, whose two children brought a letter about the assault home from school. “The letter they sent out said that the girl was accosted and ran back to her classroom frightened . . . not that she was raped.”

A small group of parents were taken on a tour of the school by school officials. Among their many complaints were holes in the gates surrounding the school that could allow easy access for intruders, the lack of random drug testing of the staff, and administrators’ current policy of using security aides instead of licensed security personnel to patrol the building.

Parents said that although they have been assured that their demands will be considered, they still plan to meet Monday morning to present a formal list of complaints to school officials.

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Some parents worried that even after the building is made safer, their children will still be damaged.

“My little daughter is so afraid now,” Susan Espinozo. “I had to tell her the truth (about the rape) because she asked.”


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