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Anaheim student who complained was told to 'get a sense of humor'

August 23, 2012 |  3:54 pm

The Anaheim high school student who complained to school officials about the "Seniores" and "Señoritas" senior week activity -- in which students dressed up and portrayed Mexican stereotypes, including gang members, day laborers and gardeners -– said he was initially told by a campus administrator to “get a sense of humor.”

The annual end-of-school event at Canyon High School was permanently cancelled, and sensitivity training classes were ordered for school administrators following a summer-long investigation, which also said the matter had been turned over to district HR officials for further action.  

The investigation was launched after Jared Garcia-Kessler, 19, walked into the superintendent's office of the Orange Unified School District to lodge a complaint in June, two days after students at the Anaheim Hills campus dressed as gardeners and a pregnant woman pushing a stroller. Other students dressed as immigration and Border Patrol agents, the investigation found.  

On Thursday, Garcia-Kessler said he was satisfied with the investigation.

"I feel like they were transparent with their findings," he told The Times.

The district's investigation -- a copy of which was obtained by The Times on Wednesday -- found that the activity dates back to at least 2009.

The report's author, Aileen M. Sterling, the executive director of secondary education for Orange Unified, wrote that "there was a lack of oversight/supervision and that the school administration should not have allowed this activity."

She continued: "It is contrary to a positive school climate and it divides students of diverse backgrounds rather than pull them together with acceptance and understanding."

That is what drove Garcia-Kessler, now a student studying business at Santiago Canyon College in Orange, to report the activity to school officials. He said he "couldn't believe that my school supported it."

"A lot of times, we are conscious of other people's cultures," said Garcia-Kessler. "We are a diverse campus, so for us to hold a day like this, I was beside myself." 

Garcia-Kessler said he comes from a multiracial family. His stepfather who nurtured him is half white, half Italian. His mother is half French-Canadian, half Korean, adopted by a half Irish, half Norwegian family. His biological father is Mexican.

“I was raised to be accepting," Garcia-Kessler said.

He said he especially felt bad for undocumented classmates.

"Schools should be safe havens for them," Garcia-Kessler said. "Instead, they see kids dressed up as INS and Border Patrol agents, while their biggest fear is being deported. They did not feel safe and that’s not fair.”

In a written statement released Thursday, Orange Unified Supt. Michael L. Christensen said the district "does not endorse or condone the behavior of students who acted inappropriately." He reiterated the investigation's findings that the students' dress was "not appropriate and that the actions of these students was demeaning and offensive."

He added: "The District is committed to working with the staff and students of Canyon High School to ensure a positive school climate and culture in all school activities."

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-- Anh Do and Rick Rojas

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