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Racial language causes stir in South County school

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A concerned local mother hopes the Lucia Mar Unified School District plans to take better care in its application of mnemonic devices after she said her son was racially singled out by one. Tucked away in the pocket of a public elementary school in south San Luis Obispo County lingered a Bing-Crosby-era piece of discrimination, which finally earned scrutiny this February.

The woman said that a line in an elementary spelling song, intended to remind kids of how to pluralize words ending in "O," referenced "negroes" harvesting "potatoes and tomatoes."

The woman, who wished to keep her name, the teacher, and the school private to prevent further embarrassment of her pre-adolescent son, discovered the language in early January when the boy came home from school stirred by the encounter.

"I'm black and my husband is mixed race, so I think, initially, my son felt like everyone else, as they were saying this in class," the woman explained. "But as the kids kept looking at him as they were saying the rhyme, he started feeling like, 'Wait a minute, I think I may be a little different. This isn't comfortable. This isn't right.'"

After complaints yielded no action, the mother said, the matter climbed the ladder of authority to the district front office. Assistant Superintendent Sid Richardson said that all complaints involving teachers are personnel issues and not available for public disclosure.

The Lucia Mar official mentioned an upcoming sensitivity training session for district teachers, but said that the action wasn't taken in response to the incident.

At the Anti-Defamation League tri-county office in Santa Barbara, organizers help districts execute programs to fight bias in the classroom, though most of the complaints spurring action stem from racism among peers. Common occurrences include racial slurs in the form of graffiti not typically lessons that carry an ethnic bias.

"It sounds rather racist to me," regional director Julie Saltoun said of the verse in question. "It evokes stereotypes of slavery."

Phone calls requesting an interview with the school principal weren't returned as of press time.

"It's not just me and him, it's the public system, which is supposed to be a melting pot," the mother said. "I think people need to be made aware of what's going on."

 

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