Two local activist groups are asking the Oceanside Unified School District to train all its teachers in cultural sensitivity after middle school students were allowed to create a deportation-themed board game for a class assignment.
In addition to sensitivity training, the Human Rights Council of Oceanside and MEChA de MiraCosta are calling for the school district to hold “Know Your Rights” forums for immigrant families at Oceanside schools, form a teacher committee on ethnic studies, publish school board meeting materials in Spanish and hold a yearly public forum “where the community can participate in open dialogue.”
The demands come in response to a class assignment submitted by a group of Cesar Chavez Middle School students. The object of their board game was to cross the U.S.-Mexico border by bombing a hole in a wall. In the game, players have to go back spaces if they get “caught” or detained. Players could also deport other players if they roll a 2 on a die.
In a news release, the two activist groups called the game “cruel, hurtful and humiliating” and said it “makes historic, white supremacist political practices and policies seem humorous and innocent.”
Karen Plascencia, a founding member of the Human Rights Council of Oceanside, said the fact that a teacher apparently sanctioned the game to was especially offensive considering that the majority of district students are Hispanic or Latino. She said the council knows of several Oceanside Unified families who have had family members deported or detained by immigration enforcement, so the game “makes a mockery out of a real situation that students are living.”
“OUSD board members and staff have a responsibility to ensure a safe and welcoming environment for all students,” the two groups said in a statement. “To allow such grotesque expressions of white nationalism in public education is an affront to the basic human dignity of all students who attend OUSD.”
It’s unclear whether the students’ teacher approved the board game, but one of the students in the group told The San Diego Union-Tribune that his teacher graded the assignment without addressing the board game’s theme with him. District officials would not say whether the teacher was disciplined.
“Here in Oceanside our No. 1 priority is the safety and well-being of our students and staff,” Superintendent Julie Vitale said in a statement Tuesday. “At the same time, while there may have been no ill-intention during this project creation, we agree that this project was completed with a lack in judgment.”
In the statement, Vitale promised that the district will “seek a plan of action to provide training district-wide that will help staff better meet the needs of our culturally diverse community.”
District officials say they are working to set up a meeting between Vitale and the two groups.
“Our superintendent is interested in meeting with their leadership to hear their concerns, experiences and ideas for positive change,” district spokesperson Matthew Jennings said by email.
The two groups say Oceanside Unified has a history of being insensitive and hostile to Hispanic and Latino students and immigrant families.
Plascencia pointed to the Oceanside school board’s 2015 vote to replace Jefferson Middle School with an Orange County-based performing arts charter school and a district-run elementary magnet program. Families protested the vote because they didn’t want their community to lose a middle school and they believed that the charter school’s admission requirements would shut out many families of color. The charter school, Orange County School of the Arts, eventually backed out of its plans to locate at Jefferson.
The Human Rights Council of Oceanside has also tried to arrange for “Know Your Rights” information sessions at district schools for immigrant families, but it stopped trying because the district was going to make the council meet with the district lawyer and pay for using school facilities, Plascencia said. Plascencia, a 2008 Oceanside High School graduate, said she remembers her schoolmates being mocked by teachers for speaking Spanish and Central American native languages.
“It was not welcoming. It didn’t feel like someplace where you’d belong,” Plascencia said.
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