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Asians Say Too Little Is Being Done to Ease Tensions in Alhambra : Schools' Handling of Race Strife Criticized

November 10, 1985|MARK ARAX | Times Staff Writer

The Asian community is questioning the effectiveness of school officials in promoting racial understanding and defusing campus tensions in the aftermath of a fight between Asian and Latino students at Alhambra High School that left a Chinese student gravely injured.

While careful to mix criticism of Alhambra District school officials with praise, Chinese-language newspapers and Asian community leaders say area schools have fallen short in their efforts to identify potential trouble spots and prevent outbreaks of violence between Asian newcomers on one side and Anglo and Latino students on the other.

Instead of taking preventive measures, they say, school officials often are caught in the position of reacting to violence both on and off campus and the inevitable tensions generated by these incidents.

While acknowledging problems between student racial groups, officials at Alhambra, Mark Keppel and San Gabriel high schools say the tension and occasional violence are inevitable given the profound demographic and cultural changes that the western San Gabriel Valley has undergone in recent years. School officials said they have taken several steps to eliminate the tension and to promote cultural awareness by using counselors and a buddy system in which Asian newcomers are matched with students who have been in this country longer.

Robert Kwan, president of the Chinese Parent-Teachers Assn. of Southern California, characterized attempts by schools officials to deal with the tensions accompanying the Asian influx as "sincere but inadequate."

Kwan said Alhambra's three high schools only this year hired Chinese-speaking coordinators to facilitate relations between Asian newcomers and school personnel. Kwan said the hiring of one Asian home-school coordinator at each of the three schools came several years after students from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia began enrolling in significant numbers in the Alhambra school district.

"The schools are trying the best they can, but it's not enough," Kwan said. "This problem requires an effort involving the entire community."

Kwan and other representatives of the Chinese PTA met last week with Alhambra Associate Supt. Heber J. Meeks and expressed concern over the Oct. 25 stabbing of the Chinese student and several other incidents of violence between Asian and Latino students at Alhambra and Mark Keppel high schools. The student, who suffered a critical stomach wound, was reported in improved condition.

Kwan proposed that the school district sponsor a community forum later this month at which school officials, parents, parent-teacher groups and elected officials would discuss racial tensions at the three high schools and suggest ways to bring about greater understanding between student groups.

Meeks said in an interview that he told the group he would pass on the proposal to Supt. of Schools Bruce H. Peppin, who would take it to the board of education.

"The community needs to have a complete understanding of what the schools are currently doing to alleviate the tension," Meeks said. "Following that, I think we need to consider what the community sees as possible solutions to the problem. That's why I think a public forum would be a good thing."

At the same time, the Monterey Park and Alhambra police departments are considering a series of "cultural awareness" programs and sessions for the high schools. Monterey Park Police Chief Jon Elder said it was premature to discuss any details and that the programs would have to be approved by boards of education in both cities.

"We're trying to come up with some cross-cultural stuff, some sensitivity training that bridges the gaps," Elder said. "This could include placing 100 sophomores in a class and putting them through some mutual trust training or maybe the use of music as a common denominator."

Since the 1980-81 school year, the Asian student population has grown from 36% to 47% at Alhambra High School, from 30% to more than 53% at Mark Keppel High School and from 15% to 27% at San Gabriel High School, according to the superintendent's office.

In addition, school officials say, the Asian influx has brought overcrowding to area campuses. Alhambra High school, which has grown from 3,000 in 1978 to 3,500 students today, now holds math classes in a Presbyterian church a block from the school.

'A Minority Today'

"What we've seen is a Hispanic and Anglo majority a few years ago become a minority today," Alhambra Police Chief Joseph T. Molloy. "The recent stabbing at Alhambra and prior school violence are directly related to a cultural problem outside the authority of school officials or law enforcement.

"There has been a backlash to rapid increases in the Asian population and that backlash is typified by dinner table conversation by adults concerning Asians," he said.

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