The Bottom Line: At This Summer Session in Watts, Black Students Need Not Apply

Betty Pleasant, Los Angeles Wave, July 8, 2009

Some parents, teachers and staff are seething at John Ritter Elementary School in Watts over a situation not seen since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its 1954 landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision integrating the country’s public schools.

But here it is, 2009, and some people see the shadow of Jim Crow looming over Watts and they’re mad about it. Why? Because Ritter–a public school–began a summer session for its students Monday in which all the subject matter is taught in Spanish. No child who does not speak Spanish (read: no Black child) is in it.

This separate thing at Ritter is far from being equal because the Los Angeles Unified School District has canceled summer school this year for all of its elementary and middle school children, so no child speaking any language is receiving summer school instruction, except at Ritter.

You see, Ritter is one of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s 10 Partnership for Los Angeles Schools that he runs with private funds he’s obtained from somewhere. Ritter is in Villaraigosa’s “school district.” The LAUSD has no real control over the mayor’s schools and, in fact, did not even know that Ritter was providing a summer school of any kind–let alone a segregated kind–until I told them and provided the documents to prove it.

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I did, however, had a lengthy interview with Marshall Tuck, the CEO of Villaraigosa’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools organization. He explained that the four-week, Spanish-speaking only summer school at Ritter resulted from the suspension a few months ago of the Dual Language Immersion Program at Ritter in which instruction was provided in both English and Spanish. He said Ritter’s program, which had operated for several years, was closed because of its “low quality.”

Even though it had poor outcomes, Tuck said the parents of some of the dual language students were very upset about the closure of the program and wanted their children to continue to be taught in Spanish. “The Partnership agreed to do something for these families, so we offered those kids who had been in the defunct dual language program an alternative,” Tuck said.

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Be that as it may, he’s created even more upset parents, one of whom said to me: “If you can’t have [a summer session] for all the students, why have it at all? I don’t think that’s right. They appease one group and offend another.”

A Ritter employee, who requested anonymity because they are not allowed to talk to the media, said this Spanish-language summer school adversely impacts not only Black students, but Black staff members, as well. “Blacks who normally work here are off for the summer. Black teachers, teachers’ aides and office staff wanted to work the month the school is open, but they were told they couldn’t work their usual jobs and all of them have been replaced by Hispanics.

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I can think of several things that could be next: How about a lawsuit extending Brown vs. Board of Education to privately funded educational activities conducted on public property? How about making mayors and others with private funds establish private schools in which they can mete out preferential treatment to their hearts’ content? How about having one unified public school district in control of all the public schools? How about letting educators run the public schools and politicians run something else? How about . . .

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