Part three of a continuing seriesThe appearance of racially offensive graffiti in several locations at Santa Monica High School on February 3 set off a series of complaints about and criticism of the school’s administration, as well as questions about how safe the campus is, from a variety of groups and individuals.Last week, the Mirror spoke with Samohi parent Marlene Herrera who had been the Vice-President of the SOL/BAC (Spirit of Love/Bilingual Advisory Committee). She stated parents “believe the students aren’t safe since the graffiti happened.”“Students are feeling unsafe so they are staying in groups with their friends,” a Samohi student told the Mirror. He then continued, “There’s a lot of tension. People are walking on edge because of what happened. There have been a couple of fights. The administration tries to hide it because they don’t want people to really know what’s going on. The majority of fights are between Latinos and Blacks.“A lot of students feel like the school is like a prison. They feel they are being watched 24/7 by the police, the administration and the teachers.”The former President of SOL/BAC Margarita Gonzalez believes the racial tensions have been exacerbated by the “ineffectiveness of the administration at Samohi.” She believes that when students get into fights “the administration takes disciplinary actions that are unfair to the students, which adds fuel to the fire because it makes the students more angry.” Herrera believes the ineffectiveness of the administration in the disciplinary area causes students to become “more rebellious against the administration.” She went on to say that if a student acts out in class “the teacher or counselor is supposed to notify the parent but in many cases the teacher or counselor punishes the student before contacting the parent or they don’t contact the parent at all.” Gonzalez added that sometimes when disciplinary actions are taken “the counselor or teacher doesn’t believe the student and this causes the student to become… angry.”Herrera said that “during the last two years the Latino parents have been taking their concerns and ideas about dealing with violence to the Samohi CEO/Principal Ilene Straus “but in fact she never took our voices seriously. She never put any of the ideas from the parents into play.”Following the escalation of racial tensions in February, Herrera and Gonzalez requested that Straus and the “O” House Principal meet the Latino families. They brought a proposal to the February 7 meeting that “a committee of parents be formed to work with the outreach specialists to work out the problems,” but, they said, they were not listened to because, they contend, “We are the few that know the truth of what’s going on at Samohi.” In addition, Straus and the administration dispersed the SOL/BAC group because, according to Gonzalez and Herrera, “They saw the group getting bigger and having more influence.” All that remains is the English Language Learners Advisory Committee (ELAC). Herrera said that the families from the SOL/BAC “don’t feel welcome at the ELAC meetings” because not all Latino families have students who are English Language Learners. The families from ELAC are a small percentage compared to the whole Latino [population at the high school]. ELAC is now being manipulated by the Samohi administration and the District.”Another problem, according to Herrera, is that the administration “got rid of the two Samohi community liaisons and replaced them with the six outreach specialists (one for each Samohi house). Outreach specialists only work with students, not families.” The community liaisons, she said, made the families feel comfortable and helped families help their children. When the families of both the Latino and Black students found that the administration was going to remove the community liaisons, Herrera said “they got 400 signatures on a petition saying don’t remove them but they were removed anyway. Now where is a family going to go because they don’t have anyone to help them?”Frustrations with the Samohi administration on several fronts, including responce to violence, caused members of the SOL/BAC to complain to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O’Connell, last July. The District responded to the complaint, but the people who complained don’t like the response.Gonzalez concluded, “It’s hard for the students because the administration is bringing in new people and new programs and is not keeping the old people and the programs that were working.”
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