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Allegations of racism surface at Maria Carrillo High School in Santa Rosa

By Greg Cahill

THE PARENTS of three African-American teenage girls at predominantly white Maria Carrillo High School are charging that students have subjected their daughters to racial slurs and other harassment, and that school officials have failed to enforce a campus no-tolerance policy that forbids such behavior.

In a letter this week to Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools Tom Crawford, the parents--Cheryl Lane, Tess Coleman, and Annette Andrews--complain that "long, escalating hostilities" at the school have forced the mothers of two of the girls to keep their daughters at home, following what they call the wrongful expulsion of the third girl.

According to the letter, Confederate flags, clothes bearing such slogans as "The KKK Is Getting Larger," and other "oppressive symbols are allowed to be worn and displayed throughout the school, even though the girls have gone to school officials a number of times to say how upsetting and offensive these things felt to them."

In addition, one of the girls allegedly has been targeted by threatening graffiti on school property, and all the girls have been subjected to repeated racial slurs. "They have heard comments like 'I have black people in my family tree and they're hanging from it," the letter notes.

During a recent talent show at the school, the mothers charge, racial and sexual remarks were made by a number of students in the audience while the girls were performing on stage. "Following the performance," the letter continues, "when the girls were in tears over the incident, a school official told the girls to 'leave it alone' and then did nothing to help the girls."

In recent weeks, the letter states, the "hostilities have broken into physical fighting in at least two incidents and the kids are beginning to dangerously gang up, with only the minority kids being held accountable."

"The school is not in agreement with the contents of the letter," says Maria Carrillo High School interim principal Steve Shepherd. "The school has done a thorough investigation of these allegations, and they have been aggressively dealt with by the administration."

Shepherd declined to elaborate on the specific allegations raised by the letter or any action taken in light of the incidents, but emphasizes that the school "has strong programs in place" to address racial issues. Maria Carrillo High School is one of five public schools included on the Sonoma County Office of Education diversity forum, and the high school has a diversity team of students trained to help deal with racism.

On March 13, Maria Carrillo school officials hosted A Day of Dialogue in response to a protest over gay and lesbian speakers at the school. The daylong program, which addressed a variety of diversity issues, was followed by lessons on related topics.

"We just recently formed a faculty task force on tolerance," says Shepherd, "and we take any allegations of racism very seriously."

At press time, Crawford was out of town at an educational conference and could not be reached for comment.

To Your Health

IN A MOVE designed to save financially beleaguered Palm Drive Hospital in Sebastopol, west county voters this week approved plans to create a new healthcare district and issue $5.9 million in bonds.

A whopping 90.6 percent of voters--far more than the two-thirds majority needed to pass the measure--gave the nod to the financing portion of the package of the special election.

A local group of investors stepped forward to purchase the hospital two year ago, saving it from almost certain closure. The new bond money will be used to buy the facility from the 35 for Palm Drive group. It is not known whether the funds will be adequate to maintain the current level of service, including a 24-hour emergency room, full staff, and 49 beds for patients.

The bonds are expected to add about $12 a year for every $100,000 in accessed property value to tax bills.

The proposed new healthcare district will run from Marin County to Mill Creek Road, north of Guerneville, and from the coast to the Santa Rosa city limits.

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From the April 13-19, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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