Shorts 17.1

Latino high school students in Milwaukee are part of a national campaign to make college accessible to undocumented immigrant students. This October, young people from several Milwaukee schools, churches, and community organizations will meet with Congressional representatives and ask them to support H.R. 1918, the Student Adjustment Act, and S. 1291, the DREAM Act.

Both bills would allow undocumented students who have lived in the United States for at least five years (and who meet other specific criteria) to gain legal residency status. The bills would also allow state universities to charge in-state tuition to the undocumented, and would make undocumented students eligible for grants and loans that they are currently denied.

Tens of thousands of undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools each year, according to the National Immigration Law Center. “College is not an option for most of these young people,” explains Yeni Salgado, a college student and volunteer with Voces de la Frontera, a workers’ center in Milwaukee that is helping organize the campaign. “If you’re undocumented, you can’t get in-state tuition, so you end up paying three times as much as other residents. And because you’re undocumented, you can’t get loans or assistance.”

Salgado and several other students from Milwaukee have spoken at hearings, leafleted festivals (including Mexican Fiesta) and appeared at other community events. They are hosting a series of information and organizing meetings in September and October to prepare for their October discussions with national elected officials.

For more information or to get involved in the campaign, contact Yeni Salgado at Voces de la Frontera, (414) 643-1620.

Kelley Dawson

Gay Rights Lawsuits

School districts in California and Nevada had to shell out big money in August over gay rights lawsuits when victims claimed the districts allowed them to be harassed for their sexual orientation. In Visalia, Calif., the district awarded $130,000 to George Loomis, after he alleged harassment by students and teachers without appropriate response from school officials.

In Nevada, plaintiff David Henkle claimed students lassoed him with a rope and threatened to drag him from the back of a truck. The district settled Henkle’s suit for $451,000. And, in the largest settlement, the San Leandro, Calif. school district settled for $1.2 million after it disciplined English teacher Karl Debro for discussing gay and minority rights issues with students. Debro’s lawyers argued that their client’s free speech and association rights were violated and that he was discriminated against because he is African American.

In addition to the settlements, the districts are required to set up training workshops on how to prevent harassment based on sexual orientation and they are required to add sexual orientation to their sexual-harassment policies.

L.A. Dumps Soda

The school board in Los Angeles, the nation’s second largest school district, has unanimously voted to ban soda sales in its schools. The district will phase soda out of its middle and high schools by January 2004. Los Angeles educators say the ban was prompted by the rise of childhood obesity and related problems like Type II Diabetes. Gov. Gray Davis signed legislation this year to ban junk-food products and soda in all elementary schools beginning in 2004.

While the move has been hailed by some as responsible and seen as inspiring healthier national trends, the National Soft Drink Association disagrees with the change, saying its data shows that students’ soft drink consumption is “vastly overstated.” The group says that school officials are unfairly targeting soft drinks and should be pushing exercise to fight childhood obesity.

Chicana/o Educators Say No to War

“… As an organization of Chicana/o educators concerned with social justice for three decades, we are deeply troubled by U.S. actions and policy since the tragedy of September 11, 2001. Our origins lie in the struggle against a racist educational system built on the colonization of the Southwest. We see today’s “Permanent War Against Terrorism” in essence as another expression of imperialist policy.

… The U.S. has been waging a war in Afghanistan and its people in the name of ending terrorism, with more countries likely to follow including the so-called Axis of Evil. We have to ask: Why is this country bombing and killing people who have suffered so much war and poverty – people who are poor and brown like so many in Chicano communities?

… At the same time we see a war at home also waged in the name of anti-terrorism. This war includes the attack on immigrant rights, a drastic assault on civil liberties, cutbacks in spending on education in favor of the military, and a rise in racial targeting throughout the nation.

… The NACCS stands opposed to both the war at home and abroad. In particular, we call for an end to the attacks on the Afghan people and the repeated threats of war against Iraq. We also see the need for Israeli withdrawal from all occupied lands and a just peace for the entire area. In this hemisphere we call for an end to the U.S. Navy use of Vieques as a bomb and military test site and an end to its growing military support for anti-insurgent repression in Colombia. We also demand an end to the violation of civil liberties, immigrant rights and other denial of justice here at home.”

From a Resolution Adopted by the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies.

Maryland Increases School Funding

A large coalition of advocacy groups managed to convince legislators that school funding reform was needed sooner rather than later. Groups like the ACLU, the Maryland PTA, Advocates For Children and Youth, and the Maryland Caucus of Black School Board members banded together this past spring and pushed the Maryland legislation to give the schools 35 percent more funding annually, or $1.3 billion over the next six years.

The coalition maintained that Maryland’s rural and urban poor students were receiving inadequate funds for a proper education and rallied to gain aggressive funding and accountability for the underserved districts.

Local activists hailed the strides made by the coalition as illustrative of the change that can result with strong organizing.

Baltimore Retains 20,000 Students

Twenty thousand elementary and middle school students will be repeating a grade this school year due to the sweeping new standards passed by the school board last year. The retentions came in spite of the fact that almost all of those students chose to take summer school.

The new academic policy requires students in grades 1-5 to have passing grades in reading and math classes and a minimum score in reading and math on the Terra Nova, the state standardized test.

School officials have already received more than 2,000 appeals from parents, mainly because their children had only failed the Terra Nova by a couple of points.

Officials have also promised to give each student extra help during the school year in the form of after-school and Saturday classes. Administrators also plan to follow students who fail and provide more data on what happens to them as the school year continues.

Stacie Williams

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