“You’re only good for crossing the border.”
“Where’d you get your papers?”
The taunts begin at the elementary school level and provide an early introduction for some members of the Latino community to the racial inequities that exist in this suburban community, said Guisela Marroquin, director of the
“It gets worse at Hommocks,” she said.
This issue is not a new one. In 2009, the parent of a student at the (MAS) recalled how she was teased by students, who referred to MAS as “the ghetto school with all the poor, dirty Mexicans.” This set off a firestorm of comments on local blog LyndaLarch10538 and online news site the Larchmont Gazette, with opinions sharply divided as to whether or not the comment was indicative of intolerant attitudes in the community or not to be taken seriously.
But little has changed since the Minority Achievement Task Force revealed a significant gap between minority and other students a decade ago, said Luis Quiros, a community activist, author of and president of Padres Unidos High School, a group to engage Latino parents at (MHS). There is also a Padres Unidos group at . A copy of the Task Force’s original agenda can be viewed by clicking to the right of this article.
“Abuses based on racial slurs, we have heard about three cases during the last two to three months and all the kids have noted that the terminology and slurs are heard around the school and during lunch consistently. The abuse is verbal and also through Facebook,” said Quiros.
Having spent her childhood in Mamaroneck, Theresa Cozart—an African-American resident who recently returned to the area from Mount Vernon—said her son, a Hommocks student, has had a difficult transition. She said he’s been bullied since 2010.
“He said he hated school and didn’t want to be there—he said he wanted to kill himself,” she said.
Although she’s aware of only a few of the harsh sentiments aimed at him such as, “You’re poor,” or “You don’t have anything,” she suspects that what he doesn’t share with her is much worse.
Cozart said that despite the school’s efforts to speak directly to the person responsible for bullying him, the offender was back at it again before long.
“The only reason I brought my kids back here was so they could go to school here—they are miserable,” she said.
Although details on the case are scarce, a Hommocks student named Gustavo Segura is circulating a petition on change.org, protesting his suspension from school for his involvement in a fight that began with racially charged language and ended with his suffering two fractured fingers. According to a letter that went out to parents on June 7, several sixth grade boys arranged a fight over Facebook, to take place at on May 30.
"The [fight was a] result of a dispute originating in elementary school and fueled by racial epithets," said the letter written by Hommocks Principal Seth Weitzman.
Even though the fight did not take place on school grounds, the district and guidance counselors contacted parents of all involved children and arranged a week-long classroom training on diversity and conflict resolution, among other things.
A copy of the letter is viewable by clicking to the right of this article.
Although the school is prohibited from speaking in greater detail about bullying incidents in order to preserve student's privacy, District Spokesperson Debbie Manetta said the following:
"Whether behavior such as this takes place on school grounds or off
school grounds, the District takes it very seriously. After learning of the altercation, the Hommocks was all over it right away and took several immediate measures to show these kids that this kind of unacceptable behavior will never be tolerated. The District has a zero-tolerance policy for bullying of any nature at all times. We do so many things throughout our schools on a regular basis to try to
make respect—respect for the diversity of our community—a part of
our school culture."
This is a typical scenario, said Quiros, adding that the details of racially motivated bullying are often a side note to an incident.
“The school has, in the past, suspended students and they put them through some type of ‘educational’ workshop with the intention of dealing with the incident and then moving on immediately. Suspensions are at maximum five days and can be in and out of school. The racial slurs go unreported because they are ‘common’ and the trauma of hearing that everyday is not acknowledged as different from bullying about physical traits,” he said.
Some of the other grievances echoed by parents and students alike in Padres Unidos High School involve “abuses related to arbitrary grading where the student felt a very unfair grading system in work submitted or tests taken that amounted to forms of intellectual disrespect; we have seen over 20 cases,” said Quiros.
Both Marroquin and Quiros gave examples of what they perceived as a lack of sensitivity toward cultural and language differences in the Hispanic community, including the assumption by some teachers that students will know things that are not necessarily obvious to someone who wasn’t born in the U.S. Marroquin said that one 16-year-old student brought a paper to her at the C.A.P. Center with a comment referencing Dwight D. Eisenhower as an, "ex-president." The comment from the teacher written on the paper was, “We don’t call people ex-presidents.”
“One size does not fit all,” said Quiros, who rejects a uniform way of dealing with students.
Dr. Anthony Minotti, assistant superintendent for student support services as well as the school’s liason for efforts to engage the Hispanic community, said that the district was one of diversity and therefore, “very sensitive to the needs of all our children.”
He went on to say that the district had many support systems in place that acted as a safety net for kids having difficulties, including drug and alcohol abuse services, counseling and Building Bridges, a program designed to teach kids about people with disabilities. A pilot counseling program introduced at Hommocks in collaboration with is primarily utilized by Hispanic students, he said.
"Hommocks was one of two schools in the country to pilot Padres Unidos," said Manetta.
Additionally, Minotti cited various examples of how the district has incorporated solutions to issues raised by Hispanic parents in the community including the translation of all school materials that are sent to parents into Spanish; bi-lingual staff members; busing of Hispanic students to different potential colleges in the area; restoration of a co-op camp that primarily benefited Hispanic students in 2009 after budget cuts nearly rendered them obsolete; bus services provided to transport Hispanic students twice per day to a preschool program at Chatsworth Elementary that was previously at MAS and several Spanish-language aimed initiatives including a school calendar and a TV show airing on LMC-TV called “Vistazos,” (Happenings).
Although he was unaware of the bullying situations described above—he said they had not been raised as issues at Padres Unidos meetings or by Quiros—and declined comment, Minotti said, “I believe our administration deals very swiftly and aggressively with situations concerning bullying and harassment.”
Still, says Quiros, an activist with 40 years of experience with Latino empowerment programs, there is much improvement to be made.
“There should be an acknowledgement that issues of bullying with a racial tone is not the same as bullying based on physical characteristics. This type of bullying is called a micro-aggression, which creates trauma in communities of color because of their marginalization. The students cannot just ‘move on’ when these comments leave the imprint that they are ‘different’ and can never change it. Current discipline models cannot be applied to all ‘incidents’ because these acts are not done in isolation or are a one-time thing, it is consistent,” he said.
Additionally, he said, it’s important that the district not attempt to fit every child into the same mold.
“The central conflict of interest for a school social worker or a therapist on the payroll is that the plan of action has to be within the guidelines of the school philosophy or ideology of the principal and administration,” he said.
“Training of staff and officials in these types of issues should not be absent of parent input an openness to listen to macro factors affecting family life. Without that perspective, 'models' will remain ineffective in addressing this growing problem.”
Editor's Note: The story was updated with a letter from Hommocks Principal Seth Weitzman and a statement from Debbie Manetta.