Skip to comments.Black students singled out for pep talks
Posted on 05/18/2003 7:09:12 PM PDT by BenLurkin
When Lancaster High School students filled the 450-seat campus theater the morning of April 17, they had no clue why they were called or what to expect.
All they knew is that they were invited to the gathering because they are black.
The meeting invitation sent out to parents read: "Black and African American Students, you are cordially invited to attend a special event with African-American staff, students and parents."
Meeting organizers say to help black students feel more comfortable to express themselves, no other students of any other race were invited to the meeting - including nonblack administrators.
Even a Valley Press reporter - sent to investigate the meeting after being called by concerned and angry parents - was told she couldn't attend. The staff member in charge of the meeting, Brothers and Sisters United adviser Eve Richard, told the reporter if the newspaper could send a black reporter, then he or she would be welcome.
Brothers and Sisters United, or Black Student Union, is a campus organization that promotes the accomplishments of African Americans and their contributions to society.
Richard did offer to tape record the meeting for the Valley Press to give it an objective perspective of what occurred. The tape proved the assembly was a pep talk for black students.
Numerous parents of various ethnicity were concerned about the exclusive assembly because they say their black or African-American teenagers have come under fire in recent months on campus by security and school officials for behavioral problems and low academic test scores.
While school administrators say the meeting was intended to help solve problems and issues with the black population on campus, the gathering backfired, sparking anger and resentment from many parents, and students, of various races.
"If you are going to tell children about discipline or test scores, that comment should be made to the general school population," said Marcia Wilson, a black parent of current and former Lancaster High students. "You go to school and they point out you are somewhat different. It doesn't matter who it is. I find that ugly."
Wilson's sister, who also has two children at Lancaster High, said she never imagined such an event could take place these days in Southern California.
"I was thinking this is a different society," said Marlene Johnson. "You just want to give your kids a good education without disruption."
The meeting was at least the second event this school year that has sparked ongoing racial tension on the campus.
Racial tensions flared in the fall after a racial brawl in front of Amargosa Creek Middle School in September. Seven black Lancaster High students - six males and one female, ages 14 to 16, were arrested for jumping another black student for hanging out with white students.
Parents of the arrested students said their children were the victims of racial taunts throughout the year by white students.
After the fall violence, to address questions of unequal treatment, Lancaster High Principal Bill Appleton brought in Darren Parker, president of the Antelope Valley Human Relations Task Force.
Parker said while many black parents believe their students are treated differently on campus, he has not found evidence of discrimination by administrators. In fact, he said, the administration has been nothing but cooperative and open during his inquiries.
"Parents have these feelings. I know that is the prevailing feeling in the Antelope Valley among minority parents," Parker said.
Across the Valley, minority parents say a disproportionate number of their children are suspended, expelled and sent to continuation schools, Parker said. However, no data exists to prove or disprove their perceptions. Their concerns, however, are not without merit; statewide, more minority students are placed in continuation schools, Parker said.
At Lancaster High, Appleton said his school doesn't record discipline statistics by race.
Parents and staff have told Parker that they believe the number of black students sent to continuations is disproportionate to other racial or ethnic groups for reasons ranging from negative stereotyping of students by teachers to actual behavior problems.
Lancaster High presented a youth summit in January to open a forum for students to talk about youth issues, including racism, violence, sexual assault and building character. The summit was geared to talk about ways to address these issues.
A month after the summit several of Lancaster High's black staff members came to the administration with the request to address the prevailing needs among the black student body - dealing with discipline problems, addressing low grades and test scores, and creating role models.
The staff members, Ron Jennings, the head of campus security, and counselor Barbara Frazier, along with Richard, wanted to address the issues directly with the students involved.
Jennings said early in the school year he noticed more black students in on-campus detention than was proportionate to the student population. And counselor Barbara Frazier wanted to talk about black students' test scores, which are lower than their white and Hispanic counterparts.
The trio said they believed students would absorb the information better if they heard it from the black staff members.
No statistics exist on the number of black students sent to on-campus detention because the figures are not tracked based on race, Appleton said.
However, test scores for Valley students are hard facts. The state tracks standardized test scores by ethnic and socioeconomic "subgroups." Students' scores within these subgroups must improve or the campus faces state and federal sanctions.
At Lancaster High, African-American students consistently scored behind their white and Hispanic counterparts. On the Stanford 9 test, 25% of blacks scored in the proficient range for math and 20% for English-language arts in spring 2002. Hispanics scored slightly better at 38% in math and 24% in English-language arts. Whites scored 55% in math and 45% in English-language arts for the same period.
The Stanford 9 is one test used to determine a school's Academic Performance Index, a three-digit number that tracks the academic progress of a school's students. Although no ethnic group has reached the state goal of 800, African-American students still fall 40 points behind other ethnic groups.
In 2002 the API showed African-American students at 517, with Hispanics at 554 and whites at 661. The school's overall score was 618.
Lancaster High isn't alone with blacks scoring lower than other ethnic groups, Parker said. The statistic exists statewide. And he believes the meetings the high school called were a proactive approach to improving academic achievement.
The separation of students was necessary to make them more comfortable to talk freely, Richard said.
They don't have to explain themselves if it's in front of their peers.
"Let's take it to the home front," Richard said. "If you are going to chastise your children, you don't have to do it in front of your child's friends."
Outrage by parents about the mid-April meeting was prompted after hearing from their teenagers about an impromptu meeting earlier in the year. In late-February black staff members walked into the cafeteria - where many black students congregated before school started - and asked the black students to remain while everyone else cleared the room.
At the meeting, students and parents say, black students were chastised for ongoing behavioral problems on the campus, Wilson said.
Administrators say the students were told that more of them were being sent to detention because of their behavior. They also were told they had the lowest standardized test scores, bringing the entire school down, Wilson said.
Staff then told these students that they could do better, and that staff members cared about their ultimate success in school, Richard said.
"Sometimes, we as black people only accept ideas that we are told from other blacks," Richard said. "If I would see white people at the meeting, I would wonder, 'Is this really from her or are these white people really behind this?' I wanted to let my young people know I'm not doing this because someone else told me to do this."
Richard and school administrators say the February meeting changed students' behavior and outcomes. Fewer black students were sent to detention after that meeting. And, the April 17 assembly was called to praise students and encourage them with state standardized tests looming.
About 600 invitations were mailed home to parents of black students for the April 17 assembly, with the invited students passing on the invitation from the Brothers and Sisters United to classmates.
That morning, black students and a handful of their parents filled Lancaster High's theater to hear five black staff members praise them for improving their behavior, and tell them they can bring up their grades and standardized test scores.
However, other parents, students and staff of other races were turned away from the meeting, as well as the media. A few nonblack students did manage to enter undetected.
"I knew people are uncomfortable with this," Richard said. "It needed to be done. We've been doing the same thing for years and nothing had changed. I stood up one morning to challenge our kids to be better. It changed."
Richard sees a need to raise up black students who are bombarded by negative stereotypes of blacks in the mass media.
They need more role models - such as the black staff members on campus - to show them a different way to live and celebrate their uniqueness, she added.
"I think they needed to hear that we care," Richard said. "That's not to only say that just black staff cares. But if they hear it from us first, then they'll start opening their eyes and find we're not the only people who care."
However, some black parents and students did not think Richard's message was uplifting. Instead, they say students were singled out and blamed for the school's low test scores and fights on campus.
And, they say it is not the first time.
Some parents say the invitations, calling for all black and African-American students and their parents, profiled, segregated and discriminated against their children.
"You can't have a pep rally for kids if they don't feel they are on the same playing field with other kids," Wilson said.
Wilson's daughter waited a day before telling her mother about the meeting because she was too embarrassed by it, the parent said. Her daughter did not want to talk to the Valley Press because she did not want any increased attention on campus.
Another parent, the mother of two Lancaster High teens of mixed race, said her children were angered at the meetings. She did not want to be identified because her teens also feared further embarrassment at school.
"I don't think it's a situation you should be putting kids in - even if it's your own people you are talking to," the mother said. "They fought so long not to be identified by color. Instead, they are teaching them segregation."
Her daughter, a ninth-grader at Lancaster High, said the black staff members came into the cafeteria in February and blamed them for low test scores and fights on campus.
"Everyone was like, 'It's not only us,' but they weren't taking questions," the freshman said.
Her friend stood up to protest what she was being told, but the staff members countered with the statistics of test scores and observations on behavior.
"At the same time, they were saying good stuff, too," the ninth-grader added.
Two other black students, sophomores Terri Clark and Autumn Vernon, said they were not allowed to talk at the meetings, either.
"I think we should all get along and stop being just black and white," said Clark, 16. "I'm tired of all the teachers thinking this is just a black problem."
The girls said the April 17 meeting was surprisingly positive and there should be more of them - if students are permitted to speak.
However, Aaron Wintterle, a white parent, objects to meetings being called based on race.
Wintterle talked to his son and his son's black friends to get a clearer picture of what happened on April 17, and he didn't like it.
His son's friend described the meeting as akin to a Ku Klux Klan meeting, Wintterle said. Some black students left angry after listening to the staff members talk.
The meetings perpetuated an "us" against "them" attitude of some blacks and whites, Wintterle said.
"You can't do that in schools," he added. "We're supposed to be race blind so everybody feels they are treated equal."
Wintterle and Wilson also are against having clubs for one ethnic group, such as the BSU.
While the assembly raised ire in some parents and teens, other students say they appreciated the meeting.
"It wasn't trying to be racist," said senior Devron Smith. "They were trying to tell us we were doing better."
And Smith doesn't believe anyone was excluded. It was a BSU meeting and the entire student body can't fit in the theater.
"There were Caucasians in there," Smith said. "We didn't kick them out."
Latashia Riles, 17, said the staff members gave students information that was hard to hear.
"They gave us a bunch of statistics that was hard to swallow, but we needed to hear it," the junior said.
"I don't think they were singling us out," she added. "It was more facts."
However, Riles admitted that some students who were passing out the invitations to black students said the meeting was for blacks only. When she saw "BSU" on her invitation, she told students that that wasn't true because BSU is open to everyone.
As for other reports of discrimination on campus, Riles said people are discriminated against everywhere.
"Anywhere you go you are going to get discriminated against," Riles said. "If it's by gender, sex, weight it doesn't matter."
"I think other students use that as an excuse," Riles added. "Not to say it doesn't happen - that's just the way it goes."
Riles and Smith aren't alone in their positive review of the meeting, administrators said. The number of students thanking black staff members for the meeting outweigh the students against it.
For example, Daniel Clay, a Lancaster junior, sent a letter addressed to African-American staff to thank them for the assembly.
"I do realize how rude and profound the activities of the students were revealing about themselves," Clay wrote. "It becomes a very melancholy issue because it facilitates the ability for 'them' to stereotype us as a people. I seriously appreciate your efforts to bring us together to discuss some of the issues that bring us down, and try and help us get past the storm and reveal the true light that is encased in all of us."
"I know that black people like to be recognized, but somehow we are producing wrongness and negativity instead of triumph and honorable, academic achievement," Clay wrote on.
Richard says she doesn't know of another way to call a meeting other than by asking people of her race to show up at a designated place and time.
There is no way to hide from being black and their skin color causes them to be singled out every day, she said.
"It's a lot to ask the students to do," Richard said. "I'm very proud they took that step to come."
When she talks to parents, she says, they agree with her intentions but not necessarily with her methods.
In the United States, Richard believes students are bombarded with the idea that they have to be the perfect "10" in a world where differences in weight, height and hair color can make them feel less successful.
"Sometimes you have to tell the brunette, 'You don't have to be a blonde to have fun,' " Richard said. "Sometimes that means telling black kids, 'Be your best.' "
Say what? California is the only state in the empire where whites are a minority. Does this mean more whites are sent to continuation schools?
Here is a parent who gets it. I don't understand why the leftists keep going down that worn "wrong" path....
Black conservative ping
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Dear NAACP: I'm sooo confused....
Everyone's a minority, you just have to look at the data a certain way.
Do they eat homecooked meals and do they eat breakfast?
Did their parents read to them for 15 mintutes a day when they were young?
Do they have both parents at home?
In other words, are the praents in the home acting like parents?
I know that from personal experience.
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