Virginia Protest Prompts Community Dialogue on Treatment of Hispanic Students

On the last day of classes at Huguenot High School in Richmond, Virginia, community members rallied outside of the school to protest the alleged discriminatory treatment of Hispanic students. The group included the valedictorian of the graduating class, Jessica Orsonio.

The day before, Richmond Times Dispatch columnist Michael Paul Williams recalled, Osornio delivered an emotional speech that explained some of the sentiment behind the protest.

““Immigrant students don’t know if their parents will be taken away and the families separated,” Osornio, a Mexican immigrant herself, told the crowd. “Every day we walk with fear as we try and just get through the day, never knowing what the future has prepared for us and our loved ones. The only thing we want is to be equal. In the past, that has maybe been too much to ask. But not today. We dream and hope for the best.”

The discontent had grown in part on Facebook, where students set up a “Latin@ Students Under Attack at Huguenot HS – Rally to Support Students and Families Fighting to Decriminalize Schools” page promoting the protest.

The page accused school officials of discrimination and accused faculty of threatening students with deportation, alleged school security guards and police targeted Hispanics, and that the school denied proper language services to parents.

At the actual protest, they distributed flyers calling for professional interpreting services for parents and students, translations of policies, and cultural sensitivity training for teachers and other staff.

One month later, the Richmond Times Dispatch reports that Richmond public schools officials have announced the formation of a multicultural task force to address the tension in the community prompted by rapid demographic changes.

According to the newspaper, the school system’s Hispanic enrollment has grown from about 2.3 percent of students in 2003-04 to about 8.8 percent last school year. The task force will in part be dedicated to improving the district’s inclusiveness, promoting diversity, putting together cultural exchange opportunities, and cultural awareness among students and staff.

Have similar flare-ups taken place in your school district? If so, what steps are school officials taking to address the issue?

Related Links:

– “Williams: Richmond schools must handle their growing diversity,” Richmond Times Dispatch.

– “Richmond educators looking for ways to better serve growing Hispanic population,” Richmond Times Dispatch. 

– “Latin@ Students Under Attack at Huguenot HS” Facebook Page.

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