African-American parents in the South Los Angeles community of Watts are protesting what they say is the unfair targeting of their middle-school students by Latino administrators who are unofficially suspending them from classes for minor infractions.
Several parents at Markham Middle School say their children have been sent home — without notifying the parents— in violation of district policy.
The accusations are part of a national pattern, with studies showing that African-American students are much more likely to be suspended than students of other races. In 2010, nearly 1 of every 6 African-American students (17 percent) was suspended at least once, compared with 1 in 20 white students (5 percent).
Parent Tyronda Farley said her daughter, who is in the sixth grade, was actually sent home without her knowledge because school officials said her pants were inappropriate.
Parents protesting outside of the school yesterday were full of stories about how their youngsters have been mistreated at Markham—one of 17 schools run by the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a nonprofit started by former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to turn around low-performing campuses.
According to Shawnte Augustine, her sixth-grade son Traeveon Cohen was sent home at least five times this school year after being told to “cool off.”
Augustine claimed Markham destroyed his grades, with the A’s and B’s he had in elementary school plunging at Markham after he missed so many classes and endured constant bullying that she said school officials did nothing to stop. Augustine said her son was officially suspended after he got so frustrated with his tormentor that he hit him with marbles in a sock.
Now that Traeveon has transferred to nearby New Designs Charter School in March, his mother told the Los Angeles Times that his grades have risen again and, interestingly, when he had conflicts with another boy his new school administrators knew how to defuse the tension with no further incident.
Markham assistant principal Marcelo Martinez denied that administrators were targeting African-Americans and sending children home without parental consent. However, he did acknowledge that some students were sent home without being officially suspended because their behavior did not meet legal grounds for suspension.
“There are times when some kids, we need their parents to help them reinforce what the expectations are,” Martinez said.
Los Angeles district superintendent John Deasy has made it a priority to seek alternative ways to discipline students to keep them in school, which clearly is being violated at Markham.
Last year the district school board ruled that “defiance” would no longer be grounds for suspension.
While partnership official Sofia Freire said there was no evidence Markham principal Paul Hernandez was using off-the-books suspensions, United Teachers Los Angeles representative Ingrid Villeda, said, “It‘s extremely clear there is a racial thing going on. You have a Mexican principal suspending all African-American kids. You can’t lie about it.”