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VALLEY FOCUS | Van Nuys

Students Protest Officer's Transfer

October 08, 1998|ROBERTO J. MANZANO

Los Angeles police officers in riot gear showed up at Van Nuys High School on Wednesday morning after about 300 students walked out of class to protest the transfer of their school officer.

Around 8 a.m., the students walked up and down Cedros Avenue, yelling "We won't let you go" and waving signs in support of Los Angeles Unified School District Officer Victor M. Del Rio. It is Del Rio's last week at the school.

During the protest, Del Rio drove alongside students in his squad car, speaking through a loud speaker and encouraging them to go back to class, said student Mary Lou Ramos.

Student Gloricela Hernandez also climbed into the squad car and asked her peers to come back, which they did. Gloricela said school administrators suspended her for two days for taking part in the demonstration.

"I don't think that's right. We have the right to free speech," Gloricela, 16, said.

"It was just a one-day thing. We wanted [administrators] to listen to us."

School officers are routinely transferred after five years at the same campus, and Del Rio asked to be reassigned because he knew he was leaving Van Nuys High next year, said LAUSD Sgt. Otis McGhee. Del Rio will start patrolling out of the Sepulveda satellite station, McGhee said.

A week ago, students told Del Rio they would protest. "I didn't take that as seriously as I should have," Del Rio, 31, said.

McGhee told students Wednesday he would reconsider Del Rio's posting and let them know today if he can stay at Van Nuys High through June 1999.

Del Rio's ability to listen to students has won him their affection, Mary Lou, 16, said.

"He's more than a friend. He's like a dad, a brother, to all of us," she said. Ramos said Del Rio pushed her to improve her grades and asked her teachers to give her extra help.

A soft-spoken man, Del Rio explained his simple philosophy: "I give them the respect they want to have if they respect me."

He said he empathizes with their concerns because he grew up in a single-parent household in East Los Angeles.

" 'Tell me what the problem is, what's bothering you?,' " he said he asks them. "That throws them off . . . Instead of saying, 'I can't do it, I don't have time.' "

He also has served as a reference when students look for jobs.

"It's not all about hooking and booking," he said of his duties.

"Four years ago I felt I had my work cut out for me. I built that trust, that respect, that has helped keep the peace on campus."

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