Column: L.A. School Board’s Offspring Turns Against Its Parents

When the Los Angeles school board created the Mexican-American Education Commission it was with the hope that it had conceived an ally.

Like many parents, however, the board is discovering that it may have given birth to a rebellious appendage.

Nothing produces distrust more quickly than a crisis and the Roosevelt High School dilemma has alienated the commission from the board in a way which stems from a lack of mutual admiration.

Almost a year old, the commission was set up to help the board unravel some of the intricacies involved in solving the unique problems of the Mexican-American student.

A sort of cruel joke, though, seemed to have been perpetrated when it was decided that the commission be composed of 40 people—40 people!


Its first meeting was held on May 5, 1969—the day of the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo. Philosophically, at least, the commission took on the task of helping improve the education of Mexican-American kids so that the massive East Los Angeles high school walkouts of 1968 would not be repeated.

On the second anniversary of the walkouts, Roosevelt seemed on the verge of leading new ones. The situation deteriorated to the point where school administrators saw fit to call in large numbers of policemen which resulted in the arrest of more than 100 people.

The police have been criticized for their “over-reaction” by, among many others, Los Angeles congressman Edward Roybal. But, as one militant teacher leader has pointed out, “Isn’t that kind of beating a dead horse? It’s the real issue one of why school administrators felt incompetent to handle the situation themselves and had to run to the police for help?”

Where, one might wonder, was the Mexican-American Education Commission when the crisis was building up? The commission, after all, had been formed amidst much fanfare that it was the missing link which would help unify the community and school administrators.

A commission of 40 individualists may be too unwieldy to deal with subtle educational problems but surely such a large commission could have at least polled the students to find out what was going on.

According to the commission’s chairman, the Rev. Vahac Mardirosian, school administrators preferred to call the police instead of the commission when trouble was brewing.

“I heard about it second hand,” says Mr. Mardirosian. The Rev. Horacio Quinones, the head of the commission’s grievance committee, went to Roosevelt to investigate and was denied entrance — as were parents concerned with the impending disturbance.

School board member Dr. Julian Nava points out correctly that the commission was never intended to be a “troubleshooter” but adds that if the commission had been consulted maybe the calling of the police might have been unnecessary. Mr. Mardirosian categorically insists that the police were called “prematurely.”

Monday quarterbacking in these cases is about as useful as an apology after being knocked down by a billy club.

But the fact remains that communication between the commission and school administrators (including the school board) has diminished as the commission’s communication with activist students has increased.

The Rev. Mardirosian and his followers in the commission are supporting the youths fight reinstate controversial school teacher Sal Castro and encouraged the Chicano Moratorium.

The more conservative members of the original 40-member commission have for some time stopped participating in the group’s activities as Mr. Mardirosian has moved closer to the students. He now talks of inviting 15 high school and college students to join the commission.

The commission, then, has become totally activist-student oriented. As long as the school board has created the commission—and even given it a budget—wouldn’t it be a good idea to consult it before the police are called again?