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LAWSUIT ALLEGES RACISM AT SCHOOL PARENTS CHARGE HART DISTRICT, BOARD, SCHOOL PRINCIPAL.

Byline: Carol Rock Staff Writer

BEVERLY HILLS - The parents of four black Valencia High School students filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against the William S. Hart Union High School District alleging ongoing racial abuse and discrimination at Valencia High School.

The lawsuit claims officials haven't done enough to quell racist slurs and graffiti by white supremacists at the school, in a largely white school district where blacks make up about 5 percent of 20,000 students.

Attorney Gloria Allred announced the lawsuit during a press conference in her Beverly Hills office, flanked by the plaintiffs and representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The complaints allege violation of civil rights, lack of supervisory liability, negligence and a violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act. The suit was filed on behalf of students Yetunde Alabi, Brandon Carrera, Jatoria Harrisson and Bryant Nichols and their mothers. The plaintiffs are suing for a minimum $75,000 and demand a jury trial.

Hart District spokeswoman Pat Willett said officials had not been formally served as of Thursday afternoon and would reserve comment.

Named in the suit were Superintendent Robert C. Lee, Valencia Principal Paul Priesz and school board members Patricia A. Hanrion, Dennis V. King, Paul Strickland and Steven M. Sturgeon, who are all being sued individually and as district representatives.

According to the lawsuit: ``African American students attending Valencia have been subjected to an unremitting campaign of hate and bias filled conduct which has been condoned and ratified ... Complaints and inquiries from students, parents and community activists (included NAACP and the U.S. Department of Justice) have gone unheeded. Policies and procedures which would prevent and/or punish such behavior are not enforced. Conduct which is openly racist has long been condoned and ratified at Valencia.''

Allred said Valencia has failed to provide a nondiscriminatory education environment, mandated under federal and state law.

``Enough is enough. Let the district come into a court of law and let them be graded on their efforts to make sure that these students are provided with the kind of education that the law requires.

``The racism is so rampant, so severe and so invasive, we are looking for a number of remedies,'' she said.

Plaintiff Alabi said that she has been verbally attacked while she was en route to school, during breaks and lunch periods and when she leaves the school grounds. She would not state the number of times the harassment has occurred. She also said that the latest racial confrontation happened at Valencia's prom on May 7 but refused to provide details.

``Emotionally, it's extremely difficult for me to go to school,'' Alabi said. ``I come home and cry about the difficulties people are going through on a daily basis. It makes it difficult to move on with my life.''

Carrera transferred to Hart High School to complete his senior year but said the administration's approach to racial issues is the same at any campus.

``I've had a few minor issues, but there is more diversity at Hart,'' he said. ``The administration is the same, though.''

Allred displayed a poster-size photograph taken by Alabi on April 4 that showed a pillar in the common area at Valencia High. Painted on the surface was ``No N----s Aloud'' above a smiley face figure. Alabi acknowledged the graffiti was removed quickly by school officials.

Valencia administrators have acknowledged racial problems but said they are not extreme and that they have tried to address individual complaints and alleviate tensions on campus. Students blame a very small number of schoolmates.

Alabi's mother was among those who initially complained to the district but decided against joining the Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity, formed late last year to address the problem.

Board member Gloria Mercado-Fortine was specifically excluded from the suit.

Mercado-Fortine said she believed she was excluded because she has made efforts to address diversity.

``I have been very vocal about my concern about the issue of diversity, looking at our own recruitment and the need to really celebrate our diversity and bring in programs that more effectively address our changing population,'' Mercado-Fortine said.

Mercado-Fortine and Strickland, board representatives on the committee, presented an informal report with recommendations from the group at the April 20th school board meeting.

They met opposition from board members King and Hanrion, who said they would have difficulty justifying the expense of additional counselors or across-the-board diversity training, two recommendations that were made by the committee.

``We do have many individuals who are committed and represent our community, but I also know that they want action,'' Mercado-Fortine continued. ``They would like to see things happen and move a lot more quickly in terms of some of the recommendations they have come up with. Some are a little discouraged because they are not seeing support for their recommendations and that has been challenging.''

Carol Rock, (661) 257-5252

carol.rock(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 20, 2005
Words:819
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