ALHAMBRA — Despite assurances by school officials that "our campuses are safe," several Asian parents attending a district meeting this week questioned whether enough is being done to defuse racial tensions between their children and Latino and Anglo students.
After the meeting, some of the parents complained that school officials were trying to conceal the extent of the problem.
"I don't want to belittle what the schools are doing because they are doing some good things," said Stephen Liang, a parent. "But I think the superintendent and the others are smoothing over the problems.
"The tension in the schools, particularly between Asian and Latino students, is quite high," Liang said. "This is a problem bigger than the schools. This is a community problem."
Array of Programs
Liang and his wife, Jean, were among 40 Asians who attended the Monday night meeting at Mark Keppel High School at which Supt. of Schools Bruce H. Peppin and principals from Alhambra's three high schools explained an array of programs and services designed to support newly arrived Asian students.
While acknowledging problems between students of different races, Peppin and the principals of Alhambra, Mark Keppel and San Gabriel high schools told the parents that tension and occasional violence are inevitable, given the profound demographic and cultural change that the Western San Gabriel Valley has undergone in recent years.
Communicating to Mandarin, Cantonese and Vietnamese-speaking parents through translators provided by the school district, officials assured parents that several programs have been implemented to monitor campus tensions and promote racial harmony. The programs involve the use of counselors, police youth services officers, outside social workers and student-run cultural awareness fairs.
Peppin had expected more than 200 parents to attend the meeting and had expressed concern that it might become emotional. But the meeting was subdued, and fewer than 10 Asian parents asked questions or spoke.
Not Happy With Format
Some of those attending said the meeting might have provided more of a give and take had representatives of the Chinese Parent-Teachers Assn. of Southern California, who had initially requested the meeting, chosen to attend. Robert Kwan, the organization's president, said in an interview that he was not happy with the format established for the meeting by school officials.
"We wanted a community forum involving all the Asian community, not just parents invited to a school meeting," Kwan said. "We weren't happy with the way the meeting was planned. That's why almost all the members of the Chinese PTA did not show up."
Kwan said the group's absence could not be construed as a boycott. Two weeks ago, he and other representatives of the Chinese PTA met with school officials and proposed that the district sponsor a community forum at which parent-teacher groups, police and community leaders would discuss racial tensions in the schools and consider ways to promote understanding among students.
Kwan said Peppin never replied to his proposal and that he was surprised when Peppin telephoned him on Monday explaining the format of the meeting.
Lack of Time
"I regret that there was a delay in responding to Mr. Kwan," Peppin said. "The intent of the district was to be as responsive to the community's needs as possible in the shortest time. The lack of time did not allow for the planning needed to organize the larger meeting proposed by the Chinese PTA.
"It was a misunderstanding, and we do want to continue to work closely with them."
Peppin said the school district will consider participating in the kind of community forum envisioned by the Chinese PTA. "It needs to be something that will provide for a constructive outcome and involve groups other than the schools."
Kwan said the Asian community is concerned that the schools have fallen short in their efforts to identify potential trouble spots and prevent outbreaks of violence between Asian students on one side and Latino and Anglo students on the other.
Kwan said the concern heightened in the aftermath of an Oct. 25 fight between Asian and Latino students outside Alhambra High School that left a Chinese student gravely injured. The student, who was stabbed once in the abdomen and suffered liver damage, is recuperating at home after surgery.
It was the second major violent incident between Asian and Latino students at Alhambra High school in less than a year. In March, one student suffered a knife wound and several others were injured during a fight between Vietnamese students and a group of Latino and Anglo student athletes.
At the meeting, Peppin and principals of the three high schools said the campuses, while overcrowded, were distinguished by a great deal of racial interaction and that racial harmony prevailed overall. They said fights between newly arrived Asians and established students were infrequent and motivated as often by "teen-age differences" as by race.