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Anti-Semitism Victim Dismayed by Incident at Valley High School

September 24, 1993|RICHARD LEE COLVIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WOODLAND HILLS — Sixteen-year-old Alon Aloni thought his forbearance had paid off, that the transfer to another school of a classmate who had taunted him with anti-Jewish comments and a death threat meant he had outlasted his tormentor.

But earlier this month, when classes resumed at El Camino High School in Woodland Hills, Aloni discovered that the student he said had mounted a campaign of ethnic hatred had returned. Aloni and his parents, who immigrated to the United States from Israel decades ago and whose relatives were lost in the Holocaust, were dismayed and frightened.

"It's scary," he said. "I can't walk down the halls by myself. . . . I have to be with somebody everywhere I go."

The 17-year-old student accused by Aloni of being his antagonist was transferred from El Camino to Taft High School in Woodland Hills last March under the district's "opportunity transfer" program, which is designed to give troubled students or those who feel threatened a chance to make a fresh start.

Critics of the controversial program have said that some principals use it to rid themselves of violent or difficult students, who are then moved from school to school until they commit a serious crime. A district task force concluded last April that administrators should make more of an effort to solve students' problems before sending them elsewhere.

The student's transfer came several days after Aloni witnessed him repeatedly kicking a wall and shouting "This is how I'm going to kill the . . . Jew, Alon," according to a Los Angeles Unified School District police report on the incident.

That threat culminated several months of conflict, during which the other student allegedly greeted Aloni with Nazi salutes in school hallways and recruited other students to harass him.

Alon's parents and representatives of the Anti-Defamation League, which has taken up their cause, said they were not told the boy would be returned to El Camino.

The boy's father said Thursday his son "made a mistake and he paid a price." The father said his son received counseling at school and from a private psychologist and has continued to be "on a very short leash" at home. He said he had offered to meet with the Alonis to talk about any lingering concerns but the offer was not accepted.

School and district officials would not discuss the specifics of the case or how it was handled, citing concerns for the privacy of both students. El Camino Principal Martin King said, "We did the only thing we could do. At the same time, I'm very sympathetic with people whose kids are very uncomfortable here."

He and other administrators described El Camino as a safe school where students can discuss their concerns freely with adults. "We don't tolerate harassment and we don't tolerate anybody whacking anybody else or abusing anyone," King said.

But Edna Aloni, Alon's mother, said she is "appalled" at the school's handling of the situation.

Fearful that the harassment would begin again, Edna and her salesman husband, Isaac Aloni, enrolled their son this week in a private school, a move they said would create a financial burden.

"We have no other alternative," said Edna Aloni, who is unemployed and receiving disability payments. "He doesn't feel safe there. He cannot concentrate on his schooling."

A letter from the ADL, a human relations agency dedicated to wiping out anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice, to school board President Leticia Quezada this week said: "The League shares the dismay of the Alonis that the deep-seated religious and ethnic hostilities displayed by the offender could not be realistically reformed in so short a time."

The letter also questioned "why it is now the innocent party rather than the perpetrator who is being punished" by being forced to transfer to escape the conflict.

Dan Isaacs, assistant superintendent for school operations, said that, generally, "opportunity transfer" students can return to their home schools if they fulfill certain conditions, such as making good grades or improving their attendance record. Officials also could require transferred students to receive counseling, but he declined to say whether that was a condition in this case.

Officials said privately that school administrators had met with the accused student and made it clear that any repeat offense would be dealt with swiftly.

King said El Camino, where the student population is about 60% minority, does not have a significant problem with white supremacists although he acknowledged that vandals spray-painted "White Power" slogans on rooms in the school's science wing a year ago.

He estimated that 20% of the school's staff, including the dean of students who handled many of the incidents between Aloni and the other boy, are Jewish. "When there is something going down wouldn't you imagine they'd be acutely aware of it?" he asked.

Alon Aloni said his ordeal began last November when a student in his English class displayed a ring with the Nazi swastika insignia.

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