The situation surrounding the pending move of the Mandarin Immersion (MI) program has become deeply disturbing, and no worse than last Friday when Marina Del Rey Middle School celebrated Black History Month.
MDR welcomed the LAUSD feeder elementary schools including the MI program
in a celebration of diversity—one of our biggest strengths at MDR. Our
Performing Arts Magnet students--my own two children among them--offered snippets of a dynamic program documenting the Civil Rights Movement in song, dance and documentary oral narrative. My son played the news anchor, reporting from actual historical record. My daughter sang traditional black anthems in the chorus. Some MDR performing arts magnet students are professional performers and some are just incorporating the arts into their education. The culmination of over a month of multi-disciplinary academic study and arts rehearsals, the commemoration was quite moving.
We had specially invited the MI families as a “welcome to the neighborhood” in the hopes of alleviating some of their fears simply by meeting fellow parents, seeing our beautiful middle school campus (designed by world famous African American mid-century architect Paul Williams) and experiencing some of our curriculum and culture. Outside, a festival atmosphere provided the elementary and middle school students a chance to visit booths featuring programs of all the schools. The Venice High School Choir wandered through caroling.
Rather than taking part in the festivities, the MI group held a meeting and peaked into our classrooms. One would think that with their principal along and one of their parents an executive at Green Dot--well versed in campus sharing--they would have known better. What a kick in the gut!
The contrast was unmistakable: the mostly black and brown MDR students commemorating the historical struggle for equal access to education while a group of entitled, affluent families sneaks around to take their classrooms away.
As a longtime Venice resident and LAUSD parent, I support an effort to keep strong programs in our neighborhood. But it was a mark of LAUSD success to me that this program needed more space to grow in order to serve more students. it's understandable that the move to a campus eight minutes away is causing frustration. But the campaign by a group of entitled parents to get what they want for THEIR children ONLY has gone haywire. It seems they will stop at nothing to get their demands met, even resorting to discrediting, racial stereotyping and fear mongering. It promises to get worse this weekend when they have planned a public demonstration which we will have to counter. While it is understandable that parents of kindergarteners would be concerned about sharing space with middle schoolers, their claims of gang fights at our school and the supposed necessity of a fulltime guard at the restroom to protect them from our middle schoolers is insulting to the students and teachers of our school. Petitions in Oakwood to keep the program in Venice in order to boost property values turn the Prop 13 debate on its head--now demanding that schools prop up property values rather than property taxes supporting public schools. These self-important parents are even taking credit for decreased gang activity in Oakwood, something that should come as quite a surprise to our local police and community leaders who have devoted significant resources to that complex effort for years, and who deserve credit for the success. If the MI families think they deserve credit, I hope they will be first in line to take responsiblity for crime if it does occur.
Several times, I invited MI parents to meet with MDR parents. They have refused, stating that it will not serve their purposes. I have been accused of having financial incentive in their move; one person assumed my husband and I were employees of LAUSD. The truth is that I'm a parent who sees the schools for ALL our children, not just my own. I have worked hard with my community to engage parents and teachers in the whole Venice family of schools. I am gratified to know there are many more like me in our neighborhood's schools.
For an appreciating audience, Black History Month celebrations like MDR's provided an important reminder of the racial struggles for public education in our nation's past. We do not need to revisit them in real time. So the question needs to be asked of Superintendent Deasy: Isn’t it possible for these families to get what their children deserve without taking something—including the self-respect—away from our students at MDR?