William Finn Bennett, North County Times (CA), May 21
LAKE ELSINORE — Reacting to the melee and racially tainted fights that erupted at Temescal Canyon High School last week, school district officials on Friday announced a series of measures to prevent further violence and defuse racial tensions at district campuses.
No arrests were made on either May 12 or 13, but 18 students were suspended and eight students are facing expulsion as a result of fights those two days.
Witnesses said that everything began when a white boy used profanity and a racial slur to tell a Latino girl to shut up as she was singing in Spanish. When hundreds of students rushed over to watch the fight, some students began throwing bottles, cans and food at other students. Twelve Riverside County sheriff’s deputies responded to the noontime incidents and dispersed the crowd.
Friday, Lake Elsinore Unified School District Superintendent Sharron Lindsay said that district officials will be working with the county, law enforcement, teachers, students and parents in the coming months on short-term and long-term solutions to the problem.
One immediate step the district will be taking, she said, is an overhaul of school dress codes to define and ban any clothing or jewelry that could intimidate other students or incite violence.
“We need to act, and we will,” Lindsay said.
Some Latino students have complained about T-shirts being used by some white students that carry Iron Cross-type emblems, which many Latino students say they associate with white-power groups.
But the district will be taking other short-term actions to address the problems as well, Lindsay said.
“We also will explore (increased) disciplinary action against students who use epithets, unkind remarks and harassing behavior,” she said.
In addition, she has asked Lake Elsinore police Chief Louis Fetherolf to consider bringing officers onto campuses to talk to students about hate crime and the jail time that may await those who commit such acts.
While saying that Lake Elsinore Unified is coming to grips with the same problems as school districts around the state and nation, she said that school district officials are highly aware of a growing climate of intolerance and aggressive behavior on district campuses.
And it’s not only students of different ethnic groups that are the targets of slurs, teasing and aggressive acts, she said.
“The increasing level of intolerance goes beyond race and ethnicity,” she said. Students who are disabled or of a different sexual orientation have also been the targets of slurs, she said.
“(It’s) anyone who is different in any way,” she said.
The district will also begin training programs for teachers and students to teach tolerance and conflict resolution, she added.
At the meeting, Riverside County Superintendent of Education Dave Long announced that the county will be pumping between $300,000 and $350,000 a year into Lake Elsinore Unified over the next three years to be used to train teachers in fostering tolerance, conflict resolution and intervention. The money will also be used hire additional staff members who specialize in those areas to work with students and teachers in those same areas, he added.
The funding is coming out of a $9 million grant the County Office of Education received last year from the U.S. Department of Education to make campuses across the county safe and drug free. Seven other school districts across the county — including Murrieta Valley Unified — will also be receiving part of that money over the next three years, he added.
Lindsay said that efforts to teach tolerance will not only be at the high school level, but from kindergarten on up.
“We know it must start early,” she said.