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A Passing Grade for Ethnic Relations : Human Relations Group's School-Based Program Targets the Roots of Intolerance

December 17, 1995

The increasing diversity of Orange County has brought vitality, as members of different ethnic groups contribute to business, education, cultural life and churches. But it also has caused problems, as individuals from one group or another too often stereotype those coming from other racial or ethnic groups without trying to know them.

The Orange County Human Relations Commission long has done a good job of fostering dialogue among members of different groups. The commission has sent people into high schools to preach the gospel of getting along; it has run a commendable program of honoring students who lead efforts to create an atmosphere of tolerance in their schools.

Recently the commission has been working with younger students as well, helping middle school pupils learn respect for each other. The value of those programs can be seen by the experience at El Rancho Middle School in Anaheim. Parents of some of the school's African American students have said that school officials mishandled racial incidents involving their children and white students.

The principal said the problems involve only about a dozen of the school's 856 students. The problems have consisted of name-calling, not punches. Still, calling other students names can hurt. One parent was understandably worried that the result would be lower self-esteem and anger for the targets of the insults.

The principal, Roger Duthoy, wisely has asked the Human Relations Commission to help ease the friction. Duthoy said the problem was new to the school and that he did not want it to get worse. "It's not good for anyone," he said.

The commission's executive director, Rusty Kennedy, said his organization will work with the administration to determine how similar incidents should be handled. He also said a big part of the program is working with teachers to ensure they do not set a tone that contributes to the problem.

The school and community were once predominantly white, but in recent years there has been an increase in the number of Asian students, Duthoy said. More than 20% of the students are Asian, and just over 10% are Latino. African Americans number only 14 students.

The increasing number of Asian and Latino students mirrors the changing makeup of Orange County. People of all religions and ethnic backgrounds have to learn how to get along, yet another lesson the schools can teach.

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