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State Orders El Monte to Change Policy on Sex Bias

May 26, 1988|CRAIG QUINTANA | Times Staff Writer

EL MONTE — The state Department of Education, responding to a parent's complaint about sex discrimination in the El Monte City School District, has instructed the district to change its policies or face a formal investigation.

In a letter delivered to the district this week, the department's investigator said that annual father-son, mother-daughter events held at Durfee Elementary School violate Section 225 of the state Education Code. The code, which prohibits sex discrimination, expressly exempts segregated father-son and mother-daughter events if they are "reasonably comparable."

The complaint was lodged by Albert Killackey, a Durfee parent who argues that Parent-Teacher Assn. events at the school promote sexism and discrimination.

In November, the Durfee PTA held its "Pretty in Pink" banquet, during which a mother and daughter's make-up was redone. In January, the PTA held its "Blue Crew" banquet, which featured a guest speaker from the Los Angeles Dodgers at the father-son gathering.

Preliminary Study

According to a preliminary study by the Education Department, the banquets are not comparable within the language of the law, said Reuben A. Burton, manager of the Intergroup Relations Office, which investigates discrimination complaints.

"After a review of the complaint, the state Department of Education legal staff concluded that events that clearly perpetrate sex-role stereotypes, i.e., cosmetics vs. athletics, are not comparable within the meaning of the Education Code Section 225," Burton said in the letter.

"They (the legal staff) suggest that the parent-child banquets be combined into one non-sexist event, or allow parents and children, regardless of sex, to attend a banquet of their choice."

Supt. Duane Dishno said the school board will consider the matter at its June 7 meeting, where he will recommend how the board should respond. Dishno said he will contact Burton about the complaint and try to determine whether the district can regulate PTA functions, which are separate from school activities.

Killackey said the letter supports his position that the district needs to have a precise policy outlawing sex discrimination. Because of his complaint, the El Monte Council of PTAs, a governing board for the 16 local PTA units at district schools, recommended that all events be open to both sexes.

'Seem to Be in Violation'

"Obviously, the State of California is instructing the El Monte school board that they seem to be in violation of state law in regard to segregation and discrimination," he said.

The PTA council's recommendation is not binding on local PTAs, and Killackey has argued that a district policy is needed to provide blanket anti-discrimination protection.

Dishno has said the district's policy outlining regulations for events held at its schools is vague and omits any mention of sex discrimination. Burton said the district has until June 20 to respond to the letter. He said the deadline gives the district time to react, possibly alleviating the need for a formal investigation by his office.

Judging from the nature of the events, Burton said, the district appears to have violated the code. If an investigation is initiated, the office will probably issue a recommendation that the district adopt a policy allowing only non-sexist events, he said.

Burton said that if the district refuses to implement the recommendation from the state, the matter will be taken before an administrative law judge for a hearing.

"We will work with the district and help them bring about change," he said. "If they refuse, then the law requires we submit it to a judge."

Burton said the PTA recommendation, if adopted as district policy, would probably satisfy the state.

Problem May Continue

In a letter to the local school units, the PTA council recommended "that every social event planned and sponsored by the PTA should include all children and adults in your school community. . . . Because all family structures are not identical, this committee further recommends that mother-daughter, father-son or any other activity that would exclude any individual be avoided."

If the district adopts a policy allowing separate mother-daughter, father-son events, even if they are comparable, the problem may continue, Burton said.

"If they remain father-son, mother-daughter, someone would have to make a determination if it is comparable," he said. "If you open it up, then there are no further problems."

Gratified by Response

Killackey said he was gratified by the response from the Education Department, which had declined to take action on his original complaint lodged in February. The department re-examined the complaint after Killackey and the state coordinator from the National Organization for Women, Shireen Miles, appealed to the department.

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