Board approves Latino liaisons

04/24/2014

After nearly five months of debating the issue, Shoreline trustees unanimously approved an advisory position for a Latino representative at each school site last Thursday. 

The school board initially planned to vote on adding a regular report from the English Language Advisory Council to future agendas, but after hearing comments from parents and family advocates, they approved a rotating position. The board hopes that having a representative at each meeting will broaden communication, bringing news to the board from ELAC meetings and sending out information to the broader Spanish-speaking community, said Jane Healy, the board president. 

The question of Latino representation arose last November, when Avito Miranda challenged two incumbent trustees on a platform of bringing a voice for Latinos, which constitute half the district’s students but have no representative on the board. 

On Thursday, Mr. Miranda expressed the need for more than a regular agenda item. “The Latino community wants somebody who can do a little more because they believe you can report from here,” he said, motioning to the audience around him. “I think the Latino community needs people sitting there like board members. It’s a little offensive just sitting here, and you do not have any power, you cannot vote, you cannot do anything.” 

One parent criticized the position as unfair, saying other groups were not given the same preferential treatment. If they wanted representation, he added, they needed to “be voted in like Americans.” Mr. Miranda agreed that the representative should not have a vote, but some representation could increase participation, perhaps encouraging Latinos to run for the board. 

The board debated having one representative, but decided better information would come from multiple representatives. Still, now the sites will “be similarly challenged” to confront the challenge of who to designate, trustee Jim Lino noted.

The regular agenda item would ensure the board could respond without violating the Brown Act, and the representative could help navigate policies, from things as simple as the time allowed to comment, Marisol Salgado, a family liaison at Tomales Elementary School, added.

Madeline Hope, a former trustee, reminded the board that creating the position did not mean they could shirk their responsibility to connect with Spanish-speaking families. “You can’t expect people to come here and just report out to you what’s happening,” she said. “You have to build the relationships with the families and the children in the school.” 

The need for better communication with Latino families was highlighted during public comment at the meeting, when two women spoke in Spanish about serious concerns they had about their children’s education at Tomales High. One of the parents, Ana Gonzales, mentioned problems with counselor Steffan O’Neill, whom parents had criticized before the board last June for telling some students they were not “college material.” Halfway through translating the comments, the interpreter walked to the front of the room and lowered his voice.

“I felt that the interpreter was not speaking loud enough. He seemed to be whispering, as if he didn’t want the message to be heard by all since it was going to make some people uncomfortable,” Ms. Gonzales said through a translator. 

The high school is making “immediate changes” to improve writing instruction and focus on a more relevant curriculum, Principal Adam Jennings said. The board is considering restructuring the counseling program and will be discussing how to improve its translation system to avoid the technical difficulties that “played out in real time” last week, Ms. Healy said.

Ms. Gonzalez was pessimistic about how much would change. “Years have gone by and new board members have become part of the school board. Yet nothing seems to have changed.”