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Discrimination alleged at school October 28, 2006

Posted by C.A.R.D in Card, Citizens Against Racism and Discrimination, Discriminate, Discrimination, Hispanic, Latino, School, Spanish.

TRENTON — Two Latino leaders are claiming the city’s Daylight/Twilight high school program has discriminated against more than 20 Hispanic students by turning them away from classes.

Councilman-at-large Manny Segura and city school board member Harry Luna contend the school did not follow policy when it eliminated classes for students who were mainly Hispanic immigrants.

Daylight/Twilight is an alternative program for high school dropouts who choose to return to school and obtain a diploma. The program serves more than 3,000 students annually.

Principal Bill Tracy, who oversees Daylight/Twilight’s seven campuses, said yesterday that the discrimination claims have no base.

“No classes were cut, no one was turned away; we simply had too many people enrolled,” he said.

Tracy said adult students were not able to take morning classes because the spots had been filled with students ranging from 16 to 19 years of age.

“We are primarily a high school, and we have to service those students first,” he said.

Tracy said students under 20 are given the priority for the morning classes. Adult students can take morning classes only if there is enough space for them, he said.

“We met with students at the beginning of the year and explained their options. No one got turned away,” Tracy said during an interview.

Tracy said over-enrollment has been a problem at the school’s Smith Avenue campus, which is located in the South Ward and holds about 250 students.

South Trenton is densely populated with immigrants from Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala and other Spanish-speaking countries who have settled there the past 20 years.

In recent years, the growing Latino population prompted school officials to begin construction of a new elementary school in the old Roebling factory.

Construction of a Daylight/Twilight high school is also under way in downtown Trenton. The school would consolidate the program’s seven campuses.

Segura said that while the South Ward may be overcrowded, Hispanic students should get the education they are entitled to.

“I received 38 letters from students who could not attend school this semester. Those letters broke my heart,” Segura said.

A group of Hispanic students were told on the first day of class that there was no room for them, Segura said.

Since many of those students were working adults, some were unable to make arrangements to attend school at a different time, he said.

Gloria Servellón, 50, said she and her classmates were told that there was no space for them in the classroom.

“My heart dropped. I felt so bad because I’ve made so many sacrifices to go to school, and now my dream was gone,” Servellón said in Spanish.

Servellón said she didn’t receive a letter in the mail informing her of the changes.

Tracy said the staff personally met with students to talk to them about their options because mailing letters would be costly to the district.

Servellón, who cleans offices for a living, said her flexible schedule allowed her to attend night school instead.

“I was lucky I could change my hours at work. Many other students were not able to do so,” she said during an interview.

Bart LaGrassa, principal of the Smith Avenue campus, said his staff counseled students and gave them the option of attending classes at other campuses.

“We offered them to go to the Sherman Avenue campus but that was a hardship for them because of transportation,” LaGrassa said.

Luna, a school board member, said asking students to go to the Sherman Avenue campus, located in the North Ward, was unrealistic.

“Why not have them attend a neighborhood school? Many of these people don’t have their own transportation,” Luna said during an interview.

Luna claimed banning those students from the Smith Avenue campus was discrimination.

“How can we discriminate when half the school is Hispanic?” LaGrassa said when told of Luna’s comment.

Segura and Luna also claimed the number of bilingual teachers at the school was reduced.

LaGrassa said that was untrue. “Half of the staff speaks Spanish,” he said.

Spots for morning classes should open up at the Smith Avenue campus in the coming weeks due to some students graduating and others dropping out, Tracy said.

“Daylight/Twilight runs 10-week programs, and we’re constantly getting a flow of new students,” he said.

The next 10-week session will begin Nov. 20, he said.

Another change is that students will no longer be instructed to go to Sherman Avenue, Tracy said.

“We thought we would get the first floor of the Sherman Avenue building ,then we found out we were only getting two classrooms,” he said.

But Segura said the problem “is far from fixed.”

Although it’s good news that more students will be able to take morning sessions, Servellón said school officials should think of a long-term solution.

Tracy said the long-term solution was the construction of the new school, which is scheduled to be completed in 2008.

Source: NJ.com

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