Latino students, district seek solutions


Frank Varga / Skagit Valley Herald
Victor Rodriguez (center) president of Skagit Valley College MEChA, addresses a crowd of Mount Vernon students in front of La Venture Middle School, where a school board meeting was held Wednesday night. At his left is Esmael Lopez, who, with Rodriguez presented a proposal to the board about cultural sensitivity.
Mount Vernon school district creates task force on diversity
The Mount Vernon School Board ordered the formation of a task force on Wednesday night to examine diversity at Mount Vernon schools. The decision follows weeks of rising tension between Latino students and Mount Vernon school administrators.

The board was reacting to allegations by Latino students and parents of cultural and racial discrimination in the schools.

Board President Mary June Curtis called for the task force after hearing a proposal by former Mount Vernon High students, Esmael Lopez and Victor Rodriguez. The two have been leaders in pressing Latino student issues with the school district over the last month. Rodriguez is president of Skagit Valley College MEChA, which stands for Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanos de Aztlan.

Over the last week, Lopez and Rodriguez had asked to submit a proposal to the school board. They were given 20 minutes to make their presentation.

Board President Curtis asked that Superintendent Carl Bruner put together the task force by the June 22 school board meeting. She stipulated that Bruner should have a list of the task force's members ready and be able to articulate its focus.

Rodriguez and Lopez proposed:

Hiring more Latino staff. Though 30 percent of students at the high school are Latino, just two of 88 of teachers are Latino. Latino students have told district officials they would like to have more adult Latino role models.

Surveying graduation rates for Latino students. District officials have said that about 40 percent of Latino students who start ninth grade do not graduate with their class, but that number is informal, according to a November 2004 University of Washington report about the district.

Implementing Latino studies at all the schools. "This would help not just Latino students but all students," Rodriguez said. Lopez added, "Racism is rooted in the lack of knowledge. Typically, you fill that void with a stereotype."

About 200 people attended the board meeting Wednesday night. Most were Latino students, some holding signs that read, "Viva Zapata," "Viva Aztlan," and "Why can't you face it? MVHS is racist." About 50 Latinos had marched from Skagit Valley College to La Venture Middle School, where the board meeting was held.

The meeting, which lasted nearly four hours, included an extended public comment session. The comment period was, in some ways, an extension of an emergency school board meeting last Friday night addressing Latino issues at Mount Vernon schools. That meeting drew about as many people as Wednesday night's board meeting.

Stephanie Ruiz Angulo, a Western Washington student said she was encouraged by district's decision to put together a task force.
Frank Varga / Skagit Valley Herald
José Medina tearfully talks about his son's troubles at Mount Vernon High School at a board meeting on Wednesday night. At the meeting, two leaders in the Latino community â€