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'Enough is enough,' student said of Seniores, Señoritas Day

August 23, 2012 | 10:10 am

Last year, some Canyon High School students in Anaheim marked "Seniores and Señoritas Day" by dressing up as Border Patrol and immigration agents. When the senior week event rolled around at the Anaheim Hills school in June, the Border Patrol costumes were back, but other students upped the ante.

Two dressed as a gardener and a pregnant woman pushing a baby stroller. Others wore ponchos, large sombreros and mustaches. Some dressed as gang members, complete with bandannas and teardrop tattoos.

"Enough was enough," former student Jared Garcia-Kessler, 19, told The Times on Wednesday. "I was hurt."

Garcia-Kessler, who graduated last year, said he complained to a teacher in 2011 but decided to file a formal complaint after he learned the event was held again at the school. A 2012 graduate also formally complained, prompting an internal investigation by the Orange Unified School District.

After examining Facebook photos, school yearbooks and other materials, as well as interviewing students and staff, a district official said there was a "lack of oversight/supervision" in regard to the event.

"The school administration should not have allowed this activity," Aileen M. Sterling, executive director of secondary education for the district, wrote in an Aug. 10 letter summarizing her inquiry.

Sterling said school administrators, who had failed tell students how to dress for the event, "reacted immediately," confiscating props and ordering students to remove their bandannas and costumes.

But, she continued, "even if strict guidelines were provided, the result would still lead to hurtful and demeaning messages about the Mexican culture and to students of the Mexican, Hispanic, and Latino descent."

The district has since canceled the event, which had been held at the high school for at least three years and was approved by campus administrators, Sterling wrote. Campus administrators will undergo diversity and sensitivity training, and the school will offer an ethnic studies class for students and hold an International Week activity in the 2012-13 school year.

"We are serious in our intent to provide effective action so that this will not recur," Sterling wrote.

Anaheim has been rocked in recent weeks by demonstrations over allegations of police abuse in the city's Latino community following the fatal police shootings of two Latino men. Activists also contend that the municipal election system discriminates against Latinos, who are about 52% of the city's 336,000 residents but have rarely been elected. A sharply divided City Council recently voted down a proposed ballot measure to create voting districts to help increase Latino representation.

In recent years, about 55% of the students at Canyon High were white and about 16% were Latino, according to a Times database of California schools. The faculty was 87% white and about 8% Latino.

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-- Robert J. Lopez

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