Commemorating Racial Struggles Should Help Prevent Real Life Tensions, Not Provide a Stage for Them

LAUSD needs to intervene to prevent the Mandarin School's campaign from turning into a struggle between races.

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?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

WakeUpSmellTheCoffee March 06, 2013 at 11:35 PM
I only followed the money on the other side to make a point. I never said that the information should be off-limits, and in fact, that information is widely covered in most local media outlets. But to throw that information out there on an open forum like this is misleading and divisive, especially when proffered as a justification for maligning the entire MI parent community. Clearly you failed to grasp the point. If Karen and some other MDR stakeholders were offended by the actions or comments of a few, again, I'm sorry that happened. Those people do not speak for me or my family, and I suspect they do not speak for many other parents and kids in the MI program. Unfortunately most of us "silent majority" are busy working and tending to our kids, and we are not running around publishing inflammatory "open letters" and publishing facebook pages that say "Mandarin Immersion." So before you attribute a set of values and attributes to our community, I just ask that you reserve judgement until you have had a chance to meet more of the "silent majority" who work so hard to provide for their kids and probably share similar opinions and values about community and education.
Trish Burkert March 07, 2013 at 12:31 AM
This is all so upsetting and unsettling. I am a new parent to Broadway, having transferred my daughter into kindergarten in late in the year. I knew absolutely nothing about any move when we started at Broadway--I only knew that MDR might offer Mandarin classes so that Broadway students could have the option of continuing their studies at MDR if they wished to continue in the language. Over the last several months I've watched as "the move" has created quite a schism in our community. I understand the concerns of the Venice homeowners, but that is a fight that I am not willing to take on. My concerns are simply that the program continues to grow and that the curriculum continues to challenge and stimulate our kids. I am totally on board with the move to MDR! I did attend the open house and did take the tour of the school. I had no idea that this event was a special event put on by MDR for the Broadway community. I received a recorded call from Zimmer saying that it was a community-wide event, which I took to mean anyone from LAUSD was invited. Had I known that this was a special presentation specifically for our school, I certainly would have responded differently.
Trish Burkert March 07, 2013 at 12:31 AM
I take great offense at the assertion that Broadway parents are wealthy, entitled parents passing down questionable values to our children. I am wealthy by world standards, but certainly don't hold a candle to many LA residents. I do not believe myself to be entitled, any more than any other parent who wants the very best for their child. I have never been comfortable with the idea of displacing the English-only program from Broadway, believing that we all have a responsibility to make concessions and think broadly; we all have a responsibility to one another. I have never heard about an invitation from MDR parents to the Broadway community, and had I heard about it, I would have jumped at the chance. It seems to me that you are taking the loudest voices from the BMI community and applying those sentiments to the community at large. While I understand the inclination, I think you would be missing out on those of us who are excited about the move. We exist and would like to work together to create a representative, diverse community.
David Ewing March 07, 2013 at 12:42 AM
(1 of 2) Darren, I appreciate the substantive character of your posts. "Separate but equal?" deserves a respectful response. I realize you are not personally advocating for MI expansion at the Broadway School, but it is to your defense of that idea that I address my remarks. I grew up in the Boston area when the School Board, under Louise Day Hicks, fought against court-ordered busing to integrate the school system. The schools were not segregated by Jim Crow laws as in the South. The court was attempting to relieve "de-facto segregation." In other words, the result was deemed intolerable no matter what motivations or economic and social conditions had led to it.
David Ewing March 07, 2013 at 12:44 AM
(2 of 2) I'm sure you are right that from the point of view of MI parents who want to move black and brown kids out of Broadway School, it has nothing to do with ethnicity but is simply the result of gentrification pressures and allocation of resources. However, as you yourself say, the result would be that black and brown kids are pushed out of their neighborhood school for the sake of other kids, largely from other neighborhoods and largely of other ethnicities. While it may be entirely co-incidental that the kids being pushed happen to be black and brown, this kind of co-incidence keeps happening over and over, decade after decade. So it's important to consider, here as elsewhere, not just the causes, but the results. That's certainly the way the Federal courts have seen it for half a century, although it looks as though the Roberts court may be changing course. I wish you every success with what everyone agrees is a successful and admirable Mandarin Immersion program.
WakeUpSmellTheCoffee March 07, 2013 at 12:54 AM
David, I appreciate your thoughtful and scholarly response about de facto segregation. Perhaps I was too quick in dismissing that as a possibility given the diversity in the MI program. Our program is challenged with being viewed as "outsiders", which is in itself a problem because we are not outsiders. We are all taxpayers who want to send our kids to a decent public school. If it weren't for the MI program, many of the parents in our program would go private or out of district (I realize this smacks of elitism, but it's not intended as such). Regardless, thank you for the well wishes and I hope the MI program community can and will do its part to integrate with the MDRMS community in a collaborative, respectful and mutually beneficial way. Cheers.
Another Broadway parent March 07, 2013 at 12:55 AM
I just want to add a supportive voice to Darren's regarding this thread. Ms. Wolfe has taken a very wide brush to paint the MI community as white, rich, racist, and entitled after having had encounters with a very small number of Venice parents. You, Ms. Wolfe, have now maligned a large number of people whom you have never met and know nothing about. My daughter is in kindergarten in the Mandarin immersion program. She is Chinese. Her two best friends in her class are African-American and Mexican-American. My two sons are Hispanic and one of them is disabled. We are a middle class, mixed race family and we are not racist. You have created an inaccurate picture of the Mandarin Immerssion community. If you truly want to have a positive relationship with our program, you will not continue to insult us. Instead you will approach our multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-lingual community with an open mind rather than an open hand ready to slap us in the face.
Karen Wolfe March 07, 2013 at 07:21 AM
I appreciate the more thoughtful discussion that's coming out of this, and glad to know that any silent majority is speaking up to drown out extreme voices. It seems like there might be room to build some trust. I think it would be good to meet with the Mandarin parents. I'm hopeful that we can create a situation that is not just tolerable but works well for both schools.
WakeUpSmellTheCoffee March 07, 2013 at 02:34 PM
Trust is a two way street. You can start by apologizing for maligning an entire community and our school based on your interpersonal disagreements with a handful of outspoken individuals.
Trish Burkert March 07, 2013 at 03:39 PM
Good morning, all. Darren, while I agree with you that the MI program was publicly and badly maligned, I think the best thing to do now is just move on. We are all trying to reach a solution for our kids, and potentially perpetuating this discussion only serves to throw us further off track. As I see it, trust will be the natural by-product of working together in service to a greater goal. I vote we move forward and start getting to know one another! We'll have plenty of time to individually and collectively acknowledge all of our misdeeds/mistakes/erroneous judgments along the way.
Josh Kahn March 07, 2013 at 03:48 PM
I have to agree with Darren. You owe the entire MI parent body an apology. There are close to 500 parents (almost 250 students in our program) and only a fraction showed up at MDR that Friday, but based on a few comments you overheard, as well as the fact that parents didn't attend the production, you feel justified in stereotyping our entire community? You made a statement that we are all entitled and affluent. Please back that up. I consider myself working-class, I live in Del Rey, and only want an amazing program for my kids to attend. The neighborhood kids around Broadway have priority registration and many have enrolled including latino and african-american families. I was not there that Friday, nor was I made aware of an invitation to a production at MDR. Our school was celebrating Black History Month just as every other school in this country should have been. Most of the parents that were there went because it was there first chance to see the campus we are being told to move to. There is a lot of apprehension regarding our potential move and I'm guessing that parents were more concerned about making sure there would be adequate facilities for our children versus meeting the parent body of MDR. Maybe there was a lack of communication regrading the tour of MDR and the agenda for that afternoon, but by going online and calling out/stereotyping our entire program just makes it worse.
Josh Kahn March 07, 2013 at 05:08 PM
Sterotypying a group of 500 parents is an "brilliant piece"?? Do you know any of us? Are you really swayed that easily by an op-ed/blog post? Are you seriously questioning the values I'm passing down to my kids?
WakeUpSmellTheCoffee March 07, 2013 at 05:18 PM
Okay, I agree with Trish. We need to move on from this unfortunate misunderstanding. Karen, and any of the other parents at MDR who read this blog, I'm sorry if you have had negative experiences with some of the parents in our community. More importantly, I apologize for any zealous comments I've made in this blog. Please give us a chance to meet with you and get to know you. There are those of us, including Trish and Josh, who really are kind, thoughtful and respectful people, and we care greatly about everyone's kids. We want to promote an environment and community conducive to learning and mutual respect. Hopefully someone from our parent body will be reaching out to the leaders of the MDR MS community to engage in a more constructive (and hopefully fun) get together.
Mindy March 08, 2013 at 04:16 AM
Darren, thank you for representing MI. The vitriol from Karen's post seems to stem from her anger that the MI group that did show up did not attend the events her children so lovingly prepared. The evening was sold to the MI community as a facilities tour. I'm sorry that happened, Karen, but please understand no one intentionally ignored your children's festivities. MI had our share of Black History Month festivities, perhaps no less than MDR. We too love how the MI program is so diverse (racially, ethnically and socio-economically), and we believe it is one of our greatest strengths. As a result of your "kick in the gut" experience (I can't blame you, when it comes to our kids, we are all passionate), this blog post seems written just to inflame and take us back decades in building bridges and creating a greater sense of community. I'm sad you have so grossly misrepresented us and ask you to fully understand our struggles and tribulations before you cast your flaming stone. A handful of encounters with vocal, overzealous parents who have been insensitive to your needs and feelings does not represent a body of 500+ parents. I wish you would take this post down as it is so biased and specious. It tears this community apart and is destructive. If you truly care about this community, please consider at least apologizing, as many of us have done to you. We have one common goal: to give our children the best education possible within our means. For that, we make no apologies.
Frank Han March 08, 2013 at 05:24 AM
Brilliant piece? Common. That's like me praising my wife for writing a brilliant article. Your relationship to the author is all too transparent to comment on. At least say something of value, which you are seemingly incapable of.
Frank Han March 08, 2013 at 05:25 AM
That's a great question? See above. You two are much too obvious in congratulating each other.
Frank Han March 08, 2013 at 05:30 AM
"That’s our theater classroom for our performing arts magnet." I see. So when it comes to your own kids who are in the performing arts magnet program, suddenly everything becomes "OUR theatre classroom" and "OUR performing arts magnet". So all this "I want to do what's best for ALL students" goes out the window. And you criticize the MI parent community for wanting what's best for their children. You are a hypocrite of enormous proportions. Shame on you.
Frank Han March 08, 2013 at 05:38 AM
"Siphon off our bounty"? Seriously? Where are you coming from? MDR rates a 3 out of 10 and has a sub 800 API score, not even making the cutoff. What bounty? Looking at what Principal Wang has accomplished at Broadway even without the MI program, hard stats tell the story. You certainly could use some "infiltration" of the MI program for your "substantially blacks and browns", as YOU prefer to call the other ethnicities. I assume you prefer to call the Asian Mandarin students "yellows" then? I certainly hope there are NOT many more like you at MDR. You just went way far back in time with your labeling. You are seriously a hypocrite.
Frank Han March 08, 2013 at 05:50 AM
You are calling the entire MI community "entitled" and "affluent". You clearly know nothing about us and are in no position to label us, yet here you are making absolutists descriptions without a speck of research or evidence. What values are you passing on to your children? I guess based on your comments below, you're teaching your kids to call African Americans "blacks", people of Latino origin "browns", and presumably you will teach your children to call people of Asian origin "yellows". You ought to apologize to everyone, including the MDR community.
Sara Roos March 08, 2013 at 07:16 AM
Wow - I had missed out on this thread of late. But I just want to say to everyone who has contributed: Good job for working through this! It sounds to me as if there were some real, serious misunderstandings, but it's hard to know what you don't know. How could Karen W have known she was not speaking with representatives of the whole when they billed themselves as such? How could parents at MI have appreciated the performance that was prepared for them specially when they were told the visit was for another purpose? Can't know what you don't know, and as was pointed out repeatedly, we all get overheated when it comes to our kids. Which is all well and good since they're pretty much the reason most of us wake up in the morning anyway. I am really excited to learn there is a pathway to, well, "co-location". Maybe you won't even have to erect a fence between the schools?! Just a thought - not intended to be inflammatory.... This thread should be used as an example in some "getting to yes"-type textbook! It is a pity so much hurt and fury had to come first, but it seems like a good ending may come of it all the same. I feel really hopeful about your combined future at MDR! signed, Pollyanna ;)
David Ewing March 08, 2013 at 08:19 AM
Thanks, SDR. You're a ray of sunshine.
Frank Han March 08, 2013 at 04:47 PM
Seriously, David, stop calling them "black" and "brown" kids. What is wrong with you? Please join the 21st century.
Mindy March 08, 2013 at 06:17 PM
Yes, a lot of misunderstanding, but unfortunately, Karen lashed out, and in the process has revealed some ugly truths about herself. Perhaps it is better this post stays up for the world to stand witness.
Karen Wolfe March 10, 2013 at 10:13 PM
When I first arrived at an LAUSD public school, I had the attitude that the district and the school would want to go to great lengths to retain my children as students because I was bringing their higher scores into the school. Some people told me that the district was not interested in catering to my kids at the expense of students who never left. That was a real wake up call and I realized my entitled attitude was not going to get me very far. It changed my attitude and broadened my focus. Somehow the MI community was given the impression that if they just made their demands loud enough, they would be met, even if it was at the expense of other students. But whether it’s at Broadway or MDR or anywhere else, someone needs to speak up for the students who might be harder to teach and who will be left behind. “Our room 27” is not about my kids, it’s about all the kids—check on the demographics yourself—whose parents can’t show up to every meeting, some who don’t show up because there’s no translater. Anywhere it happens, I and others like me will be at the front of the crowd to say “You can’t push these kids out.” Whether it’s charter schools doing it in a separate building, or LAUSD doing it within the walls of one school, it shouldn’t be allowed. It’s great that you and I and other middle class families are returning to LAUSD, it can’t be at the expense of the kids that (cont'd)
Karen Wolfe March 10, 2013 at 10:20 PM
it can’t be at the expense of the kids that can’t opt out by going to private (or charter because of transportation issues and other things for another conversation). That is what this school board election was about. And if the district, or even Steve Zimmer, needs reminding of that, many of us will serve that function. So while I’m happy for your success, I spoke out against allowing that success to push out other students. The PR campaign certainly appeared to represent your whole school (including the petitions, the ad that has the whole school's name on the top, the spreading of fear about MDR, and the intense chatter in the neighborhood—including the Rec Center which has its own growth agenda that leaves some children behind). If that public campaign didn’t represent your whole school, you guys who now call it a minority of your parents, might have spoken up earlier. I’ll say again that it defies logic that the invitations to the ONE event at MDR were not understood. Many of the other elementary schools and Venice High School not only responded but came to planning meetings to coordinate their participation. Some opted out because of short notice. I received emails from your principal and a parent coordinator that you had received the flier and the event had been publicized in your community. You will have to look to your own community to find out why that pre-printed flyer describing the event in detail was transmitted to (cont'd)
Karen Wolfe March 10, 2013 at 10:24 PM
you as an invitation to a facilities tour. As far as siphoning off our bounty, I am obviously not referring to test scores. I’m talking about the facilities and the space—some of which was paid for by a grant that our teacher wrote. And you’re going to take more space than the current charter co-located there? It’s starting to look like this is not a good fit for MDR either. The district has told us we are not allowed to grow our program but you guys are encouraged to grow aggressively?! We have a waiting list of nearly 100 kids we can’t accept because we have to make room for a co-location? While you guys have been demanding sinks and auditoriums, we have been demanding better instruction and investment in our programs. We had two teachers RIFed who were integral to our school. They allowed us to extend our arts program to the children in our community school. Now that they’re gone, only the magnet students have easy access to the arts. The list goes on and on. I don’t know if any school is willing to have their students chased out to make room for yours. The district might be thrilled with the higher test scores that your program attracts, but their job is to educate all the children, not just a select group of westsiders. Rather than importing higher scores and displacing existing students, I’ll be pushing for them to improve the education from within. If that meshes with your agenda, let’s work together. Otherwise, we’re at cross purposes.
concernedneighbor March 11, 2013 at 12:19 AM
I think you forgot to apologize for being rude, condescending, and for making judgments about 500 people you've never even met. Maybe nobody came to your program because you're a selfish bitch and a raving lunatic and nobody can stand to be anywhere near you. I feel bad for your kids - and any other kids that are relying on you to help them in any way. (And to be clear - I don't have any kids - I just can't believe what a horrible self-centered wretch you are...)
Kim Kabbash Smith March 15, 2013 at 05:37 PM
How unfortunate that you “took the stage,” to make untrue statements about the MI Program. We are not “entitled affluent” parents, are you kidding? Where did you get this information? I am a Venice native, Mark Twain Class of ’79, and Venice High ’82, and your comments are offensive and serve to cause nothing but gossip and unfounded rage. When I arrived at MDR we followed instructions from MDR and went where we were told. I followed my daughter into the auditorium and we thought we needed to leave because of an unrelated performance, so clearly there was a miscommunication. We did not know the performance was intended for us, and did not receive any invitation that I ever saw. We wanted to respect your schedule and keep to our “tour.” You do not know what we’ve been dealing with, or what we’ve been told or by whom. For you to reference “black and brown MDR students,” speaks to your mindset, please don’t profess to know what we saw or think. And I know of no public demonstration other than the long line of parents gathering to enroll their children in the MI program at 1:30 a.m. at the front of Broadway Elementary. These are hard working families that do not pay $30,000 per year to enroll in private schools, but instead battle what they must in the best interest of the children getting an education in this very stressful environment. We need to band together, not share false pretense and misinformation.
Kim Kabbash Smith March 15, 2013 at 05:42 PM
Sounds like your displeasure, as ours, should be appropriately directed to LAUSD, Zimmer and Deasy. Good luck.
Greg Newell April 19, 2013 at 01:27 AM
I'm curious where this topic netted out? I have heard rumblings that they are planning to move the mandarin program to MDR but parents rejected the plan on both ends. How can you fit both growing schools on one campus? Won't it take away from mdr? I am looking at magnet schools for my soon to be middle schooler but this turmoil alarms me. Is mdr going to be a language magnet or have marine science? Where do the funds get spent?


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