March 1, 2002

San Diego City Schools - School Beat

King Elementary Alleges Discrimination

by Mike MacCarthy

Alan Bersin loves to pound his chest on TV, during school board meetings, and in the Union-Tribune about the so-called "success" of his "Blueprint," especially in the "Focus Schools." But a funny thing happened the other day, one of the Focus Schools sent the Superintendent a letter on February 18, in which "Concerned Parents and Members of the King Community" document and allege an ongoing pattern of systemic discrimination at Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary. The following excerpted highlights reflect what they wrote:

"Dear Mr. Bersin,

For approximately 2 years now, the community of King Elementary has been witness to an administrator ... who regularly exhibits racist actions towards the students, staff, and community. The district has placed a woman at the helm of this school, who brings with her low expectations for people of color, racist stereotypes, and an agenda to advance her career without sincere concern for those whom she serves. This letter is a first step in bringing to the forefront an individual whom we believe is inflicting great harm upon our students and community. The following highlights a few events that have occurred over the past 2 years at King Elementary:

• A marked decrease in high impact staff members of color. In 2001, an African-American Vice Principal and a Hispanic Resource Specialist left and were replaced with Anglos. ... The leaders on this school site currently do not reflect the diversity of the student population and the principal has expressed no concern regarding the matter.

• On May 11, 2001, King Elementary played host to many district administrators and Instructional Leaders, to display `good instruction.' what went on behind the scenes during this visit, was one of the most discriminatory and disparaging occurances to take place in the history of this school. Prior to the classroom observations, a significant number of students, the majority of whom were African-American, were unjustly removed and hidden in `holding tanks', which were purposely avoided during these visits. One report quotes Mrs. Jones (the principal), as saying. `The level of English for some of these students would interfere with the classroom lesson, which is why we need to remove them' (re: Hispanic students kept out). These students had been deemed unfit and unworthy to be observed by the professional community.

• A steady decline in test scores has been manipulated to hide the lack of student achievement and falsely reported as steady progress.

• A decrease in student morale... For instance, under the direction of the principal, this year, Martin Luther King Elementary Jr. did not acknowledge the contributions of the man after whom the school bears his name. In addition, the mural of Dr. King was removed and promises to repaint it have not been upheld.

• A decrease in community relations with the principal, as she regulary does not acknowledge parents presence on campus....

Mr. Bersin cannot continue to be a broker of ignorance, perpetuating a prejudicial dynamic, which is undermining the needs of this `Focus School.' ... On behalf of the students, parents, and the community of King Elementary, we request this issue be promptly addressed by the San Diego Unified School District. We are appealing to SDEA, the Board of Education, the NAACP, San Diego City Council, and the San Diego media to aid us in our efforts to bring this issue to light and effectively address it.

Signed: Concerned Parents and Members of the King Community"

As of this writing (2/27/02) and according to Ms. Betty Brown (one of the signers of the above letter) there has been no response from Mr. Bersin, SDEA, the Board of Education, the NAACP, the San Diego City Council, or any of the San Diego media.

Mike MacCarthy is Publisher of "San Diego Writer's Monthly" and President of Voters For Truth in Education (VO/TE), a California public benefit corporation dedicated "to better the education of students attending the public schools within the cities and towns of San Diego County." He can be reached at mcarthy@sandiego-online.com.

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