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Prop. 187 'Discussion' Leads to Arrest of Alhambra Teacher

November 17, 1994|KEVIN UHRICH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After a heated classroom debate on Proposition 187, the only thing everyone seems to agree on is that an Alhambra teacher with 28 untroubled years of experience at the same school put his foot on a student's shoulder and was arrested on suspicion of battery.

In the eyes of the accusing student and some of his friends, all of them of Mexican descent, the teacher was espousing racist remarks such as "Your people bring disease" and then kicked the boy.

In the eyes of Mark Keppel High School teacher Donald Monson, 58, and at least one of the student's friends, the teacher was talking about other people's attitudes, not his own.

"I don't know if it was racist. I thought it was just part of the debate," the friend, who is also Latino, said of the classroom discussion.

Monson said the student who later accused him was misbehaving in class, continually standing up to shout out his views despite repeated warnings. He said he never intended to harm the boy, but admitted making a mistake by using his foot to push the youngster back into his seat.

"I have been teaching for 29 years and no one has ever called me a racist before," Monson said.

The incident at the school offers a glimpse of the high emotions surrounding Proposition 187 and how those emotions color perceptions of events.

The students said the discussion about Proposition 187, which voters overwhelmingly passed Nov. 8, started Oct. 11. Although the third period advisory, or homeroom class, is designed to allow students time to speak with one another and do homework, the discussion focused on Proposition 187 and captured the attention of nearly all of the students.

Monson said he initiated the class discussion about Proposition 187 and used a voter pamphlet to speak about the proposition, which calls for denying health and education benefits to illegal immigrants. Monson, who works with the school's student exchange program, said he used an example of a former student's entry into the United States to illustrate some of the racist attitudes that Mexican immigrants face.

The accusing student's friends, who asked that their names not be published, said Monson had made what they considered racist remarks during a discussion about the proposition.

According to the police report, Monson had told a group of students to be quiet and had told one student to move away. The student moved but continued talking. The police report said Monson then allegedly kicked the talking student in the shoulder, walked away, then came back and kicked him again and told him to leave the classroom, using profanity.

According to the report, the student left the classroom and went to the dean's office. Police were called and the student decided to make a citizen's arrest.

Monson was released later that day on his own recognizance. He returned to work later that week.

In his recollection of the incident, Monson said the one student had became "excited" during the Proposition 187 discussion, spoke loudly to the class and repeatedly stood up. Monson said he used his foot to force the student to remain in his seat. Monson maintains he raised his foot once.

"I made a mistake," the soft-spoken teacher said.

The district attorney's office is expected to decide next week whether to file charges of misdemeanor battery.

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