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Lawsuit Targets Special Classes for Minorities

March 17, 1995|MAX VANZI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Charging racial discrimination, a white student represented by a conservative legal foundation filed suit Thursday demanding that California's community college system open its special assistance classes designed for African Americans and Latinos to all students.

Janice Camarena said at a Capitol news conference that she was ordered out of an English class at San Bernardino Valley College only because she was not an African American. She told reporters she was "embarrassed and disappointed" last year when she took a seat in an English 101 classroom but was told by "the instructor, who is black . . . that I was not allowed to attend the class and would have to leave," that it "was reserved for black students only."

College officials responded by saying no pattern of discrimination is tolerated or permitted by state law. "Every one of our classes is open to everyone who is admitted to the colleges and academically prepared," said California Community Colleges Chancellor David Mertes. "To our knowledge, what occurred in the college at San Bernardino is an isolated incident and every step has been taken to assure that it would not happen again there . . . or at any college in the system."

Camarena's lawyer, Robert J. Corry of the Pacific Legal Foundation, said that the aim of the lawsuit was to correct a wrong suffered by his client and also to strike down discrimination occurring "all up and down the state" at community colleges.

The lawsuit names two programs that it says discriminate--one for African American students called the Bridge program and another for Latinos called the Puente program. Those and similar but unspecified programs, the suit says, are "open only to students of Hispanic and black races . . . and closed to students of all other races."

A spokesman for San Bernardino Valley College conceded that Camarena may have been turned away from a Bridge program English 101 class because of limited space. Paul Rubalcaba said the Bridge program class can accommodate only 35 students at a time and twice that number of black students applied for it.

Rubalcaba said the Bridge program and the Puente program are only two of 33 English 101 classes offered by the college. Camarena said she chose the Bridge class a year ago because it best fit her time schedule.

She said at the news conference that she was also told by college officials that she would not be welcome in a Puente program class because she was not a Latina, and her lawyer said, although he had no examples, "our research shows" the Puente program routinely discriminates by blocking admission to non-Latinos.

However, Frank Quevedo, chairman of the advisory board administering the Puente program statewide, denied the program bars non-Latinos. "Our program is open to any student, period, and currently 2% of the 4,000 students in the Puente program classify themselves as other than Latino," he said.

Chancellor Mertes met with President Donald Singer of Valley College on Thursday and a spokesman said officials at the college were reviewing the Bridge program, which is offered only at that campus.

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