Everett School District Superintendent Carol Whitehead has agreed to sit down for a meal with families of Hispanic students from Everett High School in May and listen to their concerns.
The arrangement comes more than a month after a fight at the high school led to arrests and suspensions of mostly Hispanic students, rekindling concerns among parents.
Anna Arroyo was among three mothers who told school board members this week that they want to work with school leaders to resolve the problems.
“You don’t need to fear us,” she said.
The Communities of Color Coalition is organizing the meeting at 6 p.m. May 23 at the Everett Senior Activity Center, 3025 Lombard Ave. The public is invited.
The informal potluck dinner will be similar to an impromptu meal and discussion parents had in March with Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson.
In the meantime, several Hispanic parents hope to form a PTA group for immigrant families. Everett High School also plans a series of school events designed to break down cultural barriers between students.
The plan was announced at Tuesday’s school board meeting.
“I’m encouraged that we’re here talking,” said Sue Cooper, a longtime school board member.
Board president Roy Yates told parents he appreciated their willingness to reach out to district leaders. “We want to assure you again these (concerns) are not falling on deaf ears,” he said.
Tensions between some Spanish-speaking parents and school administrators have been lingering since last year, when a dozen students filed complaints alleging racial harassment and discrimination.
At that time, the district brought in an unpaid consultant from the Tacoma School District to look into the concerns. While the consultant found no overt racism, she said the school had much work to do to improve its cultural climate, noting as an example that intermingling among students of different races was largely limited to sports teams.
The report also cited “hypersensitivity and hypervigilance” by Hispanic students, who may have been given “a sense of false empowerment” by adult mentors.
In response, the district improved communications with non-English speaking parents, including a multilingual phone line that connects parents with staff through interpreters. Everett High School also held cultural sensitivity training for staff.
Still, several minority advocates said the report and school leaders brushed over racism concerns, downplayed students’ sense of cultural identity, made limited changes and avoided further conversations with families.
A fight between two Hispanic girls March 6 outside Everett High School renewed those grievances.
Police were called in to break up the fight, watched by a large crowd that witnesses described as near riotous. A police officer was injured while trying to make an arrest after an 18-year-old student allegedly knocked her to the ground.
Seven students were arrested and six others suspended or expelled. Most were Hispanic.
The meeting with Whitehead is a step forward, said Kinuko Noborikawa, Communities of Color Coalition vice chairwoman.
“We are hopeful that this event will be the beginning of the healing process that will transform many students’ feelings of despair and mistrust into one of hope for a better future,” she said.
Everett High School administrators at the same time plan a series of all-day workshops through the Challenge Day program, a California-based nonprofit that intermixes students of different backgrounds and social circles in an effort to reduce bullying, harassment and divisions.
Principal Catherine Matthews said she used the program with success at her former school, Lakewood High School. “I’ve personally seen great changes in peoples’ lives because of this program.”
The goal is to send nearly all Everett High School students through the program over the next year, with the first workshops May 24 and 25. Grants will cover the $10,000 cost.
Frank Medina, 17, a junior who was involved in last year’s complaints, hopes the event will foster trust.
“Really, the thing we need the most is a bridge between administrators and the students,” he said.
There are about 120 Hispanic students at Everett High School each year. Only about half graduate, according to state estimates.
“You don’t need to tell me the statistics,” said Medina, saying he has friends who talk about wanting to leave school.
Parents say they feel similar barriers to their concerns.
They plan to form a group under the PTA umbrella that will focus on the needs and involvement of minority and immigrant parents, primarily Hispanics. The tentative name of the group is Parent Advocates Determined to Reach Educational Success, or PADRES. Padres is Spanish for parents.
“Parents from varying backgrounds … have cultural and language differences that often make it difficult for them to participate in a traditional PTA,” said Stephanie Ruiz Angulo, who has helped families as a member of a Mount Vernon-based advocacy group and who has a child in an Everett elementary school.
Reporter Melissa Slager: 425-339-3465 or mslager@ heraldnet.com.