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O.C. school's 'Seniores,' 'Señoritas' events called demeaning

August 22, 2012 |  7:57 pm


"Seniores" and "Señoritas" events held at an Anaheim high school -- in which students dressed as gang members and a pregnant female pushing a baby stroller -- have been canceled after officials concluded that the activities were demeaning toward Latinos and their culture.

The events, which have been held for at least the last three years at Canyon High School, took place during senior activity week in June and were approved by campus administrators, according to school district officials.

The event was canceled after the Orange Unified School District launched an internal investigation in June in response to two complaints filed by former students.

"I conclude there was a lack of oversight/supervision and that 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 probe.

"Even if strict guidelines were provided," Sterling said, "the result would still lead to hurtful and demeaning messages about the Mexican culture and to the students of the Mexican, Hispanic and Latino descent."

Former student Jared Garcia-Kessler, 19, who graduated last year, said he complained in 2011 to a teacher but decided to file a formal complaint after he learned the event was held again this June at the Anaheim Hills school.

"Enough was enough," Garcia-Kessler told The Times. "I was hurt."

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

Administrators at the school 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, according to Sterling. 

In the most recent event in June, two boys dressed as a gardener and the female pushing the baby stroller. Other students dressed as U.S. Border Patrol agents and "gang members with bandanas and tear drops," the investigation found. Some students wore large Mexican sombreros and fake mustaches. 

School administrators, who had failed to tell students how to dress for the event, "reacted immediately" and confiscated props and ordered students to remove bandanas and tear drops, according to Sterling's investigation.

She said the actions of school adminstrators would be referred to the district's Human Relations Department for further action. 

[For the Record, 8:33 a.m. Aug. 23: An earlier version of this post referred to part of the event as "Señores," rather than "Seniores. Also, some incorrect capitalization may have given the impression that Anaheim High School is involved in this issue. It is not. The school at the center of the debate is Canyon High School, which is an Anaheim high school.]


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Photo: One of the images that Jared Garcia-Kessler submitted in his complaint to officials. Credit: Jared Garcia-Kessler