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YMCA Fires Director Over Civil Rights Lessons

Anaheim program manager is dismissed because of after-school instruction methods. Some parents protest the decision.

March 11, 2004|Jennifer Mena | Times Staff Writer

Parents and children protested Wednesday with placards in front of an Anaheim YMCA to support a program director who was fired after staging a civil rights exercise.

John Alvarez, the former director of the YMCA Program Center West on Ball Road, said he was placed on administrative leave Feb. 6 and fired March 4 because of the curriculum he developed for the after-school program in conjunction with Civil Rights Week in January.

The activity included role-playing in which YMCA staff yelled at children to demonstrate intimidation, and dividing children into two groups, with one preventing the other from drinking from water fountains or doing their homework on tables, to demonstrate the effect of discrimination.

About 45 students in grades four through eight participated.

YMCA spokesman John Guastaferro would not comment on the curriculum but did say, "It was the methods that management had issue with. They did not fit in with the YMCA or general education standards." He said there was no plan to change the decision.

Carrie Huffine, 35, a medical biller, was among about 30 parents and children who protested the decision. Alvarez "has made so many positive changes. He got the kids involved, and they came to love it here," said Huffine, whose 10-year-old son participates in the program.

Alvarez developed the activities near the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday and based the curriculum on the teachings of diversity trainer Jane Elliott, who calls her program Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes.

Parents said Wednesday they were aware of the curriculum and signed consent forms for their children to participate. Alvarez, who did not participate in the protest, said he had used the program the last three years.

Alvarez, 34, a native of Miami, said he has worked in several YMCA facilities during the last 14 years. Parents said their children came to love Alvarez because he developed programs that allowed the children to select short courses on football, basketball, Greek mythology and art, and offered field trips.

YMCA teacher Jerry La, who participated in the protest, said the civil rights curriculum "taught the kids about true life. Now we have to speak out just as the curriculum suggests you do when you see something is not right."

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