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Hayward's Public Schools Have a Problem With Race

A steady stream of complaints from students and parents reveals a school district in disarray.

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African-American and Latino elementary school students are being victimized by teachers and staff members at schools in the Hayward Unified School District, parents and their children said for a second straight school board meeting in February. Students, some sobbing, addressed the Hayward school board last Wednesday while describing instances of being called fat and belittled by teachers during class instruction. Bullying by other students also has gone unabated despite repeated complaints to school officials, parents said, and school district and board of trustees have done little to improve the racially biased atmosphere at some Hayward schools.

Surrounded by supporting adults, an elementary school student named Alana Hill described to the school board being the victim of bullying by teachers and students. "It started in first grade when the teacher was being racist toward me, bullying me," she said nervously. "Telling me stuff like 'Go sit on the floor, black child,' while other students got to sit on their desks." When Alana did not understand the curriculum, she said the teacher repeatedly singled her out in front of classmates by saying "Do you get it, Alana? Do you get it, Alana?" In another instance, a physical education teacher called her fat. Little was done to remedy the abuse, she said.

Matthew Jackson, a fifth-grader at Ruus Elementary, told the school board that he is bullied on a daily basis without help from teachers and school administrators. On one occasion, his life was threatened by another student who said she wanted to "burn him alive."

A young sister of two Hayward elementary school students sobbed as she described great concern for the wellbeing of her brothers at school. "It's not fair, because a lot of people are getting hurt and a lot of them are my friends and nobody is helping them," she said, weeping. "The teachers are treating them like monsters and it's not okay." When the timer ending her allotted speaking time rang out, she said in frustration, "I'm not done!"

Tami Rossell, a Hayward parent, said inaction from school administrators to the abusive treatment her daughter has faced in Hayward schools has left the girl contemplating dropping out of school. "My family is in an educational abusive relationship with the Hayward Unified School District," she told the school board last month. "What is happening is not okay and I will not stop until it is okay for all children to go to school in this district and be safe and feel loved."

Similar frustrations regarding bullying and racism toward students by teachers has been voiced at the Hayward school board for several years. But parents believe little has been done to eliminate the issue. Because many of the allegations amount to private personnel matters between the school district and employees, it's difficult to discern whether any tangible changes have been made. Hayward Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Matt Wayne said private coaching and professional development has been given to school staff members. The school board approved a general resolution to address racial biases and discrimination toward African-American families in the school district, said Dr. Annette Walker, the president of the Hayward school board. "We have addressed this matter. Bullying, there is zero tolerance for that."

Even among the largely union-friendly Hayward electorate, the level of exasperation has led a growing number of parents to question the ability of its teachers, openly questioning whether they deserve wage increases in light of continually poor achievement among Hayward students. Calling out specific Hayward teachers during public meetings is becoming commonplace. "As you can see, parents are so frustrated that they are willing to come and say the teacher's name," said Araceli Orozco, a resident whose two children graduated from Hayward schools. "Some of these problems, everybody knows about them, and it seems nobody is addressing these problems. We need to hold people accountable. We need to be honest that this culture has been going on for years. It is affecting our children."

Rossell added, "It's unfair to beg the public for more money when you're not even good stewards of the money you already have."

The Hayward Education Association, the union that represents Hayward teachers, has long had an adversarial relationship with the school board. But the loss of support from some parents has left the union boxed in on all sides. The development has left Mercedes Faraj, the teachers union's president, in an unenviable position of keeping angry parents at bay while lashing out at the school district and its superintendent for their intransigence. "You have a major communication problem," Faraj told Wayne during a meeting in early February. "You are not having dialogues with depth or breadth with the community, your labor groups." Faraj accused Wayne of sidestepping legitimate concerns being lodged by parents by steering parents toward private conversations and online reports not easily found on the district's website. "It is clear that we are tired of that," Faraj said. Wayne responded, "I feel like I need to take a breath after hearing that."

Hayward Unified School District maintenance and operations workers represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 have also used the opportunity to put pressure on the school board. Like many school districts, Hayward could use more money, but a number of parcel taxes approved by voters have done little to consistently improve the district's test scores. In coming months, the Hayward school board plans to begin discussions for budget cuts to fill an estimated $10 million deficit. Maintenance and operations workers, who have been in negotiations for a new contract since last September, said the school board is acting in bad faith while anticipating their departments will bear the brunt of the coming belt-tightening, including cuts to crossing guards and security at school sites. Carol Chappell, a campus security guard, said until a series of break-ins last week, there had been no personnel assigned to work graveyard shifts and monitor school sites for weeks.

Hayward's school population is overwhelmingly nonwhite. Latino students make up 65 percent of the Hayward school district. Overall, more than 40 percent of Hayward's population is Latino — the largest Latino voting bloc in Alameda County. African-American students follow at 9 percent of the student population, along with various Asian-American demographic groups totally roughly 18 percent. Just four percent of Hayward's students are Caucasian. However, most Hayward teachers and staff are Caucasian. Some recent metrics show that Hayward school children perform well below the state average — particularly in math competency. Nearly 86 percent of high school graduates in Hayward are not college-ready in math, according to state statistics.

Tumult at the Hayward school district is nothing new. It's actually the norm. Like the Oakland Unified School District, Hayward has struggled with insufficient funding, low-performing schools, and questionable budget decisions. But in Hayward, the warring sides have been mostly on the school board's side of dais.

Over the past decade, school board members have openly quarreled during meetings. A school board president summoned local police to escort a school board member from a meeting. A secret romance between another school board president and a member of the board raised Brown Act questions and led to the discussion of sexual topics typically avoided in the presence of school children. Later, a superintendent was alleged to have acted physically aggressive toward two boardmembers during a closed session meeting. Police reports were filed and that superintendent was later let go by the district, but not until after an investigation found he had acted unethically as its superintendent.

Discord within the school board also has significantly undercut its relationship with other Hayward elected officials, particularly the city council. In most cities, the two elected bodies collaborate, but often at arms-length, despite possessing many of the same interests. However, four years ago, six of the seven Hayward councilmembers crossed over this line and formed an independent expenditure committee with the intent of defeating three school boardmembers. The committee was successful in helping to take out two school boardmembers, but failed in defeating current Hayward school trustee, Dr. Luis Reynoso, a controversial and opinionated elected official, who has harshly criticized the city council in the past.

In an effort to bridge the historical divide between the city council and school board, Reynoso and Councilmember Aisha Wahab have proposed a series of joint public meetings. Such meetings are quite typical in cities across Alameda County. But according to some, leaders on both sides expressed trepidation at such an arrangement, out of worry they will be publicly lambasted by Reynoso. The proposal briefly languished last fall, before both sides acquiesced. One joint meeting is planned, but it remains unclear whether a second meeting will follow.

As for the school board's response to growing calls for improvement, its comments were curious. Hayward school boardmember Dr. Robert Carlson was jeered by some when he told the angry parents there was little that the policy-driven school board could do immediately. President Walker, who is up for re-election this November, repeatedly urged the parents to run for the school board themselves, but added that they would ultimately learn for themselves that the job is not easy. Then, Ken Rawdon, a popular high school music teacher in Hayward who won a seat on the school board two years ago, threw out one possible suggestion for fixing what ails the school district: ban cellphones at school.

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