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Anaheim high school cancels events found to be demeaning

After complaints, 'Seniores' and 'Señoritas' events at Canyon High in Anaheim Hills, where students wore costumes demeaning to Latinos, are canceled.

August 22, 2012|By Robert J. Lopez, Los Angeles Times
  • One of the images that Jared Garcia-Kessler submitted in his complaint to officials.
One of the images that Jared Garcia-Kessler submitted in his complaint… (Jared Garcia-Kessler )

"Seniores" and "Señoritas" events held at an Anaheim high school — in which students dressed as gang members and a pregnant woman pushing a baby stroller — have been canceled after officials concluded the activities were demeaning toward Latinos and their culture.

The events, which have been held for at least three years at Canyon High School, took place during senior activity week in June and were approved by campus administrators, according to school district officials.

The event was canceled after the Orange Unified School District launched an internal investigation in June in response to two complaints filed by former students.

"I conclude there was a lack of oversight/supervision and that the school administration should not have allowed this activity," Aileen M. Sterling, executive director of secondary education for the district, wrote in an Aug. 10 letter summarizing her inquiry.

"Even if strict guidelines were provided," Sterling said, "the result would still lead to hurtful and demeaning messages about the Mexican culture and to the students of the Mexican, Hispanic and Latino descent."

Former student Jared Garcia-Kessler, 19, who graduated last year, said he complained to a teacher in 2011 but decided to file a formal complaint after he learned the event was held again at the Anaheim Hills school.

"Enough was enough," Garcia-Kessler told The Times on Wednesday evening. "I was hurt."

In his complaint, Garcia-Kessler told officials that pictures of the event were featured in the school yearbook and posted on Facebook.

Anaheim has been rocked in recent weeks by demonstrations over allegations of police abuse in the city's Latino community following the fatal police shootings of two Latino men. Activists also contend that the municipal election system discriminates against Latinos, who are about 52% of the city's 336,000 residents but have rarely been elected. A sharply divided City Council recently voted down a proposed ballot measure to create voting districts to help increase Latino representation.

In recent years, about 55% of the students at Canyon High were white and about 16% were Latino, according to a Times database of California schools. The faculty was 87% white and about 8% Latino.

Campus administrators will undergo diversity and sensitivity training, and the school will offer an ethnic studies class for students and hold an International Week activity in the 2012-13 school year, according to Sterling.

In the most recent event in June, two boys dressed as a gardener and the woman pushing the baby stroller. Other students dressed as U.S. Border Patrol agents and "gang members with bandannas and tear drops," the investigation found. Some students wore large sombreros and fake mustaches.

School administrators, who had failed to tell students how to dress for the event, "reacted immediately" and confiscated props and ordered students to remove bandannas and tear drops — tattoos often associated with Latino gang members — according to Sterling's investigation.

She said the actions of school administrators would be referred to the district's Human Relations Department. Administrators also apologized to school staff, Sterling said.

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robert.lopez@latimes.com

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