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League Revamping Plan Criticized for Racial Overtones

April 02, 1987|PAUL McLEOD | Times Staff Writer

It was doodled on a scrap of paper at a kitchen table after a late-night meeting and has become a difficult issue with racial overtones that has polarized 21 high schools.

The proposed releaguing of athletic teams at Southeast Los Angeles County's public high schools has drawn criticism from an alliance of black, white and Latino administrators who fear it will isolate minority schools.

The releaguing plan, which would take place in the fall of 1988, was passed by a one-vote margin in February by the 21 high school principals who make up the San Gabriel Valley division of the CIF Southern Section. It breaks the current Whitmont, San Gabriel Valley and Suburban leagues into four new groupings. The plan has antagonized some people because of its racial mixture.

The Paramount Unified School District was the first public agency to vote to appeal the proposal to the Southern Section CIF, saying Paramount was being "segregated."

Other school boards are discussing similar action. Larry Tripplett, principal of Lynwood High School, which is predominantly black, said: " . . . race is the underlying problem with this proposal."

Scheduling Problems Foreseen

The proposal has been criticized for other reasons. There have been complaints that the method by which the proposal was brought to a vote was improper, if not illegal. Coaches also have complained that there will be severe scheduling problems, because three of the four new leagues would have five teams each, and two schools have accused another district of trying to withhold a survey that allegedly supports keeping the league lineups unchanged.

Supporters say the releaguing plan means a better level of competition and more teams reaching post-season play. That could translate into additional revenue for the schools.

But it is the racial conflict that threatens to turn school board rooms into arenas.

The racial agenda was highlighted at a Paramount district board meeting by Bill Carpenter, a white member of the school board. Carpenter complained that his racially mixed school would play in a league that is "8% Caucasian, 88% black/brown."

"It's not fair to our kids or to the community," he said. "We've worked to improve Paramount High's reputation. Now they're putting us right back with them. The four schools taken out (of our league) were white schools."

He said that under the releaguing plan it is as if the teams in the "new" San Gabriel Valley League are saying: "Us white boys are going to play together."

Tripplett agrees with Carpenter on the central issue. "Its obvious to me," he said. I've been here two years. I read about (racism) before I came here. Now I'm seeing it."

Counters Whittier's Michelle Lawrence, chairman of the releaguing committee: "That's a crock. I am a Mexican. The majority of the schools in the San Gabriel Valley area are minority."

This is the first major attempt at releaguing the area in a decade.

"Whenever there is change, there is necessary trauma," said Principal Mara Clisby of Gahr High School in Cerritos, who voted for the proposal. "This is only for two years. At the end of two years we can make some adjustments. At least we have broken out and talked about doing something. The way it was, we were locked in and none of the schools were going to get out of the old configuration."

A 'Cozy' Argument

Principal Frances M. Riley of Bell Gardens High School, an opponent, calls that argument "cozy."

"Only two years and change?" Riley said. "Now that they have the lions locked up in the cage they're not going to let them out."

Placed in a "cage," according to Riley, are the predominantly Latino schools of Paramount, El Rancho and Bell Gardens with the largely black schools of Lynwood and Dominguez. They would form a new league.

Other changes have Montebello High remaining in the Whitmont League with five schools from the Whittier Union High School District, which has a majority of Latino and white students.

Artesia High would leave the Suburban League and join Downey, Warren, Gahr and Cerritos in the San Gabriel Valley League. According to a study used by the Paramount board in its appeal, whites are the largest ethnic group in those schools.

La Mirada, John Glenn, Bellflower, Mayfair and Norwalk would remain in the Suburban League.

"I don't think the releaguing committee took into account one important factor--ethnic breakdown," Paramount Supt. Dr. Richard Caldwell said. "I don't think they realized, in essence, that they segregated some schools."

Late-Night Scribbling

Ironically, the plan was initiated by Paramount Principal Douglas Rozelle at the Feb. 20 meeting of the releaguing committee.

The night before he had been an observer at a meeting of the South Bay releaguing committee, where several five-team alignments had been discussed. When he returned home, Rozelle sat down at his kitchen table and devised a plan on a scrap of paper.

"It was late. I kind of scribbled out what it would be like in our area," he said.

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