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Perceived Racial Bias Sparks Walkout by Pomona Students

October 13, 1994|TALLY GOLDSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A small number of Pomona Unified high school students walked out of school on Monday in protest of what they perceived were three signs of racial prejudice in the school district. But district officials said the teen-agers should have done their homework; they were wrong on all three counts.

About 100 of the district's 5,500 high school students marched in opposition to what they said was the district's support of Proposition 187 and its celebration of Columbus Day.

However, the district formally opposed Prop. 187 last month, and officials said the district has never celebrated Columbus Day.

The students apparently took the word of 19-year-old Pomona High School graduate Ricky Sierra, who admitted that he sneaked into Ganesha, Garey and Pomona high schools on Friday to distribute hundreds of flyers promoting the protest.

Following Sierra's lead, the students said they also were angry that Latino applicants were not being considered for superintendent, when, in fact, a Latino is among the final candidates for the position.

"If this is what they're upset about," said Cassandra A. George, assistant superintendent of secondary schools, "then I'm very confused."

To support the protest, Ganesha and Pomona students walked out of school at noon, while Garey students had the day off for a teachers' conference.

They congregated in front of City Hall, where many students held Mexican flags and signs that read, "Death to Pepe Wilson," "No Apartheid in the USA" and "Vive la Raza."

Others sat in the shade, sipped sodas and chatted with friends.

After 20 minutes, Sierra directed the teen-agers to the district building across the street, where he and other speakers used derogatory terms for whites and homosexuals.

District officials said they will discipline those students who left school illegally. "Student activism is a legitimate way in a democracy for people to express their feelings and opinions," George said. "But I think it's reprehensible when adults use children for their own political agendas."

Sierra said he knew the students would be punished for cutting school, but said, "You've got to take risks."

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