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'I just want them to stop ...' 

A four-year study finds a nightmare of abuse, bullying and sexual harassment for Latino students in some Little Rock schools, with reports of complaints falling on deaf ears. What's going on, and can anything be done to stop it?

Dr. Terry Trevino-Richard's evidence of near-constant bullying, intimidation and violence aimed at Latinos at the hands of black students in Little Rock schools — including shocking sexual harassment of girls as young as fourth grade — has not been told until now. The sociology professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock says he's been waiting for a sign of improvement in the Little Rock School District since providing his research to the district in 2010 and again in 2011.

But, like study participants who said their complaints fell on deaf ears when shared with teachers and school principals, Trevino-Richard believes his survey, Operation Intercept, has also been ignored.

Trevino-Richard says he presented the findings of Operation Intercept three times to two different LRSD superintendents and several high-ranking administrators, making presentations with full summaries and recommendations to Superintendent Linda Watson in October 2010 and December 2010, and presenting the findings again for Superintendent Morris Holmes in September 2011.

The district was originally unable to find those summaries in its files, but did turn one up after being provided with a copy by the Arkansas Times. Trevino-Richard this week also provided the district, for the fourth time, he said, with summaries of his research. District spokesperson Pamela Smith said the district "will thoroughly review and verify the concerns and pointedly deal with the same. ... We want to drill into the heart of the matter and we will."

To be sure, the Operation Intercept study — responses to questionnaires and focus groups at five schools completed in 2007 and 2008 — is by now old data.

But Trevino-Richard, the president of the local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) is plugged into the Latino community and whose wife and study collaborator, Rocio Ortega-Richard, has kept in touch with students and parents, believes the district has yet to address the problems.

And a 2012 graduate of Hall High says it's his experience that black-Latino conflicts still exist.

Trevino-Richard has also provided the results to the Arkansas Times, in the hope that making it public will provoke a response from the district.

'I just want them to stop ...'

Trevino-Richard and Ortega-Richard conducted the Operation Intercept study (collecting additional data in 2010) with the cooperation of the Little Rock School District. Originally set in motion by former LRSD superintendent Roy Brooks, the study distributed questionnaires and held focus groups at several Little Rock schools with sizable Latino populations, including Chicot Elementary, Wakefield Elementary, Terry Elementary, Henderson Middle School and Hall High School, with some later work conducted at Baseline, Cloverdale and others.

Originally, Trevino-Richard said, the plan was simply to ask Latino students about their attitudes about school: which classes they liked, which learning styles worked best for non-native speakers, and so forth, with no questions about race or race relations. One question in the study, however, asked students to comment about the worst thing that had happened to them at school. That question opened a Pandora's box, with students repeatedly mentioning sexual harassment, violence, bullying and what the researchers came to see as a pattern of casual racism among both black students and some staff.

"We talked about bullying, and suddenly there's just this slew of stuff that's basically a black/brown issue in terms of being picked on," Trevino-Richard said. "The sexual harassment is stunning for fourth and fifth graders. One of the kids — a female — said: 'I just want them to stop doing this to me. I want them to stop.' She was constantly being sexually harassed."

Comments about black-on-Latino harassment, mocking and bullying were uniform across the board. At four of the schools, 34 of 44 Latino parents who participated in focus groups reported that their children had been bullied. Worse still was a pattern that would become troublingly common as the study progressed: near-constant sexual harassment of Latino girls by black males. Five of the six Latino elementary-school-age girls who took part in a focus group at Wakefield Elementary reported being sexually harassed or otherwise sexually threatened, and 16 of 19 elementary school-aged girls overall reported being sexually harassed.

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