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Oxnard Latinos Charge Busing Plan Will Lead to Segregation

February 16, 1989|MEG SULLIVAN | Times Staff Writer

Oxnard School District trustees are learning that if there's one thing as controversial as busing for racial integration, it's dismantling such a program.

More than 400 parents, teachers and activists--most of them Latino--packed a meeting Thursday to voice their opposition to a proposal to reduce busing and other integration measures ordered nearly 18 years ago by a U.S. District Court judge.

The 1971 ruling had required the Oxnard district to bus two-thirds of its students and to institute a system of paired schools that would split students' grammar school years between neighborhood schools and schools with a different racial mix. Under the new plan, the number of students bused would be reduced to a third of the district total, and the number of paired schools would be substantially reduced.

The opponents, whose concern focused on students within La Colonia, asked trustees to abandon or at least delay the plan, which could take effect as soon as July.

"We fear that the plan signals a return to segregated schools for the children living in the Colonia area of Oxnard," said Patricia Navarro, a representative of the Concilio, an umbrella group for organizations that provide services and advocacy for Ventura County's Latino community.

Barrio Schools Suffer

Opponents said schools in the Latino barrio such as Juanita School would languish under a proposed drop in Anglo students, while such schools as Christa McAuliffe, on the city's more affluent west side, would flourish. Under the plan, only 9% of Juanita's students would be Anglo, compared to 37% at McAuliffe, said Carmen Cortez, a reading specialist at Harrington School.

"Historically, schools where the Hispanic ratio is high tended to get less money and service," Cortez said. "But when you have children of different races together, they have the opportunity to interact and dispel any stereotypes about a culture or race."

Opponents also criticized plans to integrate Colonia schools by attracting Anglos to them with magnet programs and upscale residential development on agricultural land north of Colonia Road.

They noted that in a district survey, only 5% of the district's parents expressed an interest in sending their children to magnet schools. They also pointed out that the Oxnard City Council has not approved construction on a Colonia Road site where the district hopes to build two schools.

"We find the district's intent to implement the plan in July of 1989 premature," said Marina West School teacher Cynthia Garcia-Doane. "Many details still need to be worked out."

Also opposing the plan were parents of students in the district's Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program, which offers a separate curriculum for the district's brightest students.

GATE Programs Merged

Under the plan, the district's two GATE programs, in which enrollment is 46% Anglo, would be consolidated at the Colonia's Rose Avenue School, whose ethnic makeup would otherwise be 95% Latino, according to district figures. The present GATE programs are at Harrington and Elm Street schools.

"They are using the GATE children to solve political problems," said Cynthia Morales, a GATE teacher and mother of a GATE student.

District officials have portrayed the plan as a way to increase the number of students who attend schools within walking distance of their homes. The proportion would increase from one-third to two-thirds within 11 years, when the district completes four new schools with $40 million raised from a 1988 bond measure.

The city's Anglo population has long advocated a decrease in busing, which would represent a considerable savings. The district spends about $900,000 a year on busing for racial integration, officials said.

District officials have also said that if the definition of an integrated school is relaxed, more students could attend one school throughout their elementary years instead of paired elementary schools, an approach that the district views as educationally inferior. In a kindergarten through sixth-grade school, a principal is able to ensure that a student's educational experiences build on each other, Supt. Norm Brekke said.

A substantial increase in the proportion of Latinos living within the district makes the abuses of the past virtually impossible, Brekke said.

"Eighteen years ago, we had white schools and schools for minorities," he said. "Now we don't have enough whites in the district to make separate schools."

Under the 1971 court order, which lapsed in 1987, the proportion of Latinos at each school was required to be within 15% of the proportion of Latinos within the entire district. At that time, the district was 46% Latino.

Under the committee's plan, the district would be required to keep enrollment at each school within 20% of the district's Latino composition, which is now 70%.

But teachers and parents complained that the plan is, in the words of GATE parent Judy Gorcey, "integration on paper only."

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