How inclusive of Latinx voices the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District really is, is what sparked this federal investigation, which shocked community members.
“When you say federal investigation, I mean a little bit because we’ve had a good experience, my husband’s family has had a good experience, so yeah it does surprise me,” said Maria Bravo, a concerned mother of a student at Georgia Brown Elementary School.
In order to address budget cuts, the district created the 7-11 committee in 2020, which suggested closing Georgia Brown Elementary School due to apparent infrastructure issues. This elementary school is unique because it has a dual immersion Spanish language magnet program.
Paso People’s Action co-founder Yessenia Echevarria repeatedly raised concerns over lack of representation.
During a school board meeting on April 27, 2021, Echevarria strongly criticized the Spanish translation services provided to her while she addressed the board virtually.
“The Hispanic community should take note of this abuse,” said Echevarria.
School board president Chris Arend responded to Echevarria’s comment after going over the time allotted during public comment.
“This was idiocy, this woman speaks fluent English and she has wasted now another roughly five minutes of our time to grandstand here,” said Arend. “I am speaking like a member here.”
With that history and the fact that according to the California Department of Education 35% of the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District’s student population are English learners.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating the following allegations as stated in the complaint letter:
1. The District discriminates against Limited English Proficient (LEP) parents and community members by failing to communicate with them in a language that they can understand at School Board and 7-11 Advisory Committee meetings;
2. The District treated Latino LEP parents and community members differently by denying them the opportunity to participate as members of the Committee; and
3. The District discriminated against Latino and English Learner (EL) students through the Committee’s recommended closure of Georgia Brown Elementary School.
“The school district’s deliberate negligence and purpose-driven pain towards the Latinx community in Paso Robles should not be ignored, whether it’s their failing to provide Spanish language committee forms or their desire to place profits over people in their closure of Georgia Brown Elementary school site—a school in a majority-minority district,” said Yessenia Echevarria, co-founder of Paso People’s Action. “The damage they’ve caused will have long-term impacts on the community and affect everything from educational equity to political participation.”
Dionisia Cisneros said her grandchildren’s experience at Georgia Brown Elementary School has been great, but it is concerning to still see racism against Latinos as highlighted in this complaint. Cisneros added that Spanish is crucial to communicate in her household.
The complaint was filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area and the California Rural Legal Assistance on behalf of Paso People’s Action.
“By denying Latinx parents the opportunity to participate in its advisory committee and by not providing adequate interpretation services at its board meetings, the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District violated these laws, silenced its community members, and engaged in unlawful discrimination,” said Frank Kopcinski, the Directing Attorney of California Rural Legal Assistance’s San Luis Obispo Office.
In a statement, the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District said they welcome any recommendations from the public to encourage community participation.
“The District firmly denies any discrimination against Latino students or their families and has numerous initiatives to ensure participation of all members of our community,” added Curt Dubost, the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District’s Superintendent.
Regarding the closure of the Georgia Brown Program, the district said the process is still ongoing and no decisions have been made.
“The District has repeatedly committed to keeping the Georgia Brown program open with our full support, no matter at what site it is located,” said Dubost. “The District also provides translation of all school board meetings in Spanish, provides Spanish speaking members of the public additional time for public comment, and provides translation services to assist in making public comment.”
The case remains under investigation.