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MLK segregation lesson raises parental concerns

January 25, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Parents react, some with understanding, some with anger, to a Martin Luther King Day lesson at an elementary school that did not go as planned. The lesson was meant to teach kids about the injustice of segregation. But it left some of them in tears.The activity involved separating students by their skin color. That is not sitting well with some parents, who believe the lesson is inappropriate for their children.

It was supposed to be a lesson in inequality at Willow Elementary School in Glendora. But a 2nd-grade physical education class that allowed non-minority students more play time while minority students ran laps isn't sitting well with some parents.

Narisa Hernandez learned about it from her 7-year-old daughter.

"She said she had a bad day, so I asked her why. She told me in her words, 'The Mexican kids had to run today and the white kids got to play,'" said Hernandez.

The incident happened on January 13 during a weeklong celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Second-graders Elizabeth Tavalos and her sister Joslyn both took part in the activity.

"That was mean, but I still love my teacher," said Elizabeth.

"He wanted people to be treated the same, that no matter what about the skin color, they could still be friends," said Joslyn.

The next day the students who received special treatment were to exchange places. It never happened.

Charter Oak Unified School District cancelled the lesson after administrators received several complaints.

"I think it was a shame that the lesson wasn't able to be played out. I think it was a good lesson for the kids to understand," said Kim Roset, Willow Elementary PTA president and parent of a 2nd-grader.

Monday the school's principal sent a letter home with students apologizing for the unintended emotional impact on some of the students.

"The lesson was intended to address the inequities of assigning privileges and obligations based on the color of a person's skin. Regrettably, it sent a different message to the participants and their families," wrote Bryan Shaw, Willow Elementary principal.

Charter Oak Unified School District Superintendent Mike Hendricks says the school district is looking into the incident.

"We will continue the investigation and if we find that further actions are warranted, we will do that," said Hendricks.

But Anamaria Bearden says her daughter's experience was a learning one.

"We spent about an hour after dinner that night talking about segregation, what it was, talking about history," said Bearden.

Another parent said the lesson was simply too tough for her child to understand, and that it wasn't age-appropriate.

The district said in the future, the plan to create lessons that are better geared toward children, and plan to be more careful and sensitive to the issues.