Saturday, May 17, 2008

Students protest alleged remarks

Sun Valley teacher denies making fun of Latinos

A crowd of Sun Valley High students gathered outside the school Friday to protest what they say were derogatory comments by a teacher about Latinos.

Principal Ken Roess said he heard Thursday that some students were upset about "questionable comments." He declined to give details because he said staff members are investigating.

Freshman Gaby Aguilar said she organized the protest after a friend told her that math teacher and track coach Gerald Sheppard made fun of the way her friend speaks English and said Hispanics should go back where they came from. The student in question could not be reached.

Sheppard, who was away from school at a track meet Friday, denied making the comments. "I'm really just appalled," he said. "Anybody that knows me knows that I would never make a comment like that. I treat every one of these kids the same."

Gaby, 14, whose family is from Mexico, said she encounters similar remarks on campus from white students who make fun of Latino students for speaking Spanish.

"They need to get up to date and realize the world is changing," she said.

About 185 of Sun Valley's 1,500 students are Hispanic.

Some 300 teenagers met on the terrace at 11:50 a.m. outside the school's cafeteria, 20 miles southeast of Charlotte. Administrators said they worried that many of the kids were missing class.

Gaby said she encouraged Latino classmates to wear shirts that represent Spanish-speaking countries.

"It's to make a point," she said. "We're proud of where we come from."

Kids on Friday wore the bright blues, reds and yellows of Colombia's flag, the star and stripes of Puerto Rico and the red, white and green of Mexico.

Faculty asked them to return to class.

Seven young men stood side by side across the street yelling slogans of support and several obscenities in Spanish. It's not clear whether they were students.

The crowd on campus stood for about 45 minutes before sheriff's patrol cars arrived and administrators coaxed kids back in the building. No one was arrested and deputies didn't approach students.

"I feel the need for solidarity," said Assistant Principal Theresa Benson. "But it needs to be in an organized fashion."

Principal Roess said it's uncertain whether anyone will be disciplined.

"Our desire is that every student feels safe and comfortable at our school," he said. "It saddens me that the campus has been disturbed by one event.

"We celebrate diversity at Sun Valley."
Shawn Cetrone: 704-289-6576

Source: Charlotte

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