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Newport-Mesa school district takes community input as it gears up new Humans Relations Task Force

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A community member writes what she thinks the goals of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District’s new Human Relations Task Force should be during an informational meeting Wednesday night.
(Lilly Nguyen)

Dozens of parents, students, board members and administrators from the Newport-Mesa Unified School District filled the seats and lined the walls at the district headquarters Wednesday night for Newport-Mesa’s first informational meeting on establishing a Humans Relations Task Force to promote “a greater level of cultural understanding and acceptance.”

The district board of trustees on March 12 directed Supt. Fred Navarro to establish the task force, a little over a week after pictures from an off-campus party showed local high school students flashing Nazi salutes over a swastika made from plastic cups during a drinking game.

“We know that this incident that happened is not isolated to Newport-Mesa Unified School District, to our state or even our country,” Kirk Bauermeister, the district’s executive director of secondary education, said during Wednesday’s meeting. “It is a worldwide issue.”

The district is collaborating with OC Human Relations, a Santa Ana-based nonprofit that will help facilitate the task force.

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The panel will examine “what [the district is] currently doing, ranging from curriculum to clubs and possibly how to do a better job,” as well as immediate changes that can be made on campuses.

Bauermeister added that the group would collaborate with the Anti-Defamation League, Newport-Mesa Interfaith Council, Trellis International and the cities of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach.

The party in Costa Mesa was attended by teenagers from Newport Harbor, Costa Mesa and Estancia high schools, students said.

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Alison Edwards, chief executive of OC Human Relations, discusses what the Newport-Mesa Unified School District’s Human Relations Task Force will be. The nonprofit is helping to facilitate the task force.
(Lilly Nguyen)

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The meeting Wednesday focused on what the task force should be and receiving community input on its purpose.

Community members were asked to write down their goals for the task force and what groups and interests should be represented, the qualities that task force members should have and any issues and concerns the task force and OC Human Relations should be aware of.

Guadalupe Ignacio, a junior at Newport Harbor High, said she was disappointed with the low student turnout at the meeting but said she hopes the task force will help “open [students’] eyes.”

“It’s the first step into making a change and I’m really happy that [the district] is really considering it and listening to us, because we really do want to make a change and change the whole system for future generations,” Guadalupe said. “I have a little brother at Whittier [Elementary in Costa Mesa] and he’s going to go to the same high school and I don’t want him to go through the same things we went through.”

Jonathan Treussard and Moriya Bodie, parents of two students at Harbor View Elementary in Corona del Mar, said the task force is a “step in the right direction.”

“It’s phenomenal that people are here and that this is happening,” Treussard said. “It’s only the beginning and we have to have momentum and not allow for this to be a quick fix.”

“I think it’s really important to understand that this is a big deal, that we have to look at our community and see where we have to kind of go in and address the issues around ignorance,” Bodie said. “I think that’s where we should start.”

Treussard said it’s important to provide context and history for students to understand that what those at the party were doing was hurtful. He added that “it’s particularly important in a community that is privileged and affluent that we have to be leaders in this way.”

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Community reaction to the photos led to several public forums, a vigil in Costa Mesa and a private meeting between students involved in the party and Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss, stepsister and childhood friend of famed diarist Anne Frank.

Task force applications and meetings

Applications to join the task force and the expectations for prospective members will be put on the district website Monday. All applicants will be accepted.

The task force’s first meeting will be April 17 at the Sanborn building at the district headquarters, 2985 Bear St., Costa Mesa.

District staff requested that applications be completed by April 14, but people who don’t apply by the next meeting won’t be excluded.

OC Human Relations also will lead monthly community workshops.

A tentative schedule of the workshops and the task force’s bi-monthly meetings also will be posted on the district website Monday.

The task force will begin making recommendations to the school board in June and will continue meeting in the fall to monitor the progress of implemented steps.

“The involvement of our community tonight demonstrates the commitment and will to create safe and respectful school environments for all students,” Navarro said. “I look forward to the task force’s future recommendations that will help us realize our vision.”

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