'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?

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"More work obviously could be done," she said, "but we feel very strongly about our commitment to trying to make education as inclusive as possible."

'It has gotten better'

Little Rock School Board member Melanie Fox said that she has spoken with Trevino-Richard about presenting the study to LRSD administration, but has never seen the full report. She was unaware it was presented to Holmes last year.

Fox said that while she didn't have specific knowledge of black/Latino relations at any of the other schools in the study, she often visited Hall High as a school board member. Fox said there was a time at Hall High when tension between Latinos and African-American students was running high, but she said she believes it has improved in recent years. "I think it has gotten better," she said. "I think the situation at Hall is not perfect, but it has gotten better. Is it where it needs to be? No, but it has gotten better."

Fox said that when someone calls to complain to her about an issue, she tells them they must follow the "chain of command" that eventually leads to the superintendent and the board. "I cannot solve or address their issues, really, until they follow that chain of command," she said. "If they tell me they're fearful of that chain of command and give me a good reason why, I can immediately say: Get me something in writing and I will forward it to the superintendent."

Fox said the LRSD board is undertaking a complete "cover to cover" review and revision of the student handbook this year. "They have a committee formed to take that book apart and look at it page by page," she said. "Hopefully that is going to lead to some new and improved rules and regs as far as student behavior, teacher behavior and employee behavior."

Fox said that Holmes has taken steps this year to try and address the "language barrier" issue, including emphasizing bilingual education. "This year, everything is being printed in Spanish and English now, and that's new," she said. "The handbooks were deployed to every school with Spanish copies. That's new. I do know that the district has taken some steps this year to address those issues."

Told about the incident in which students at Chicot Elementary reported they were punished for speaking Spanish by being forced to sit outside in the cold without their jackets (see page 16), Fox called the incident "shocking." She said she would call Trevino-Richard to ask him to present the study to the Little Rock School Board so specifics like that incident could be addressed.

"I'm shocked. Dismayed," Fox said. "No student, no matter what — no matter what color or race — should be treated that way."

Zone Six school board member Charles Armstrong was similarly shocked by some of the reports in the study, particularly the accounts of sexual harassment. "I don't believe in sexual harassment, nor bullying. If it was my daughter, I'd be out there and they'd probably have me in jail ... . I have talked on this subject since I got on the board: We will not accept bullying. If the bullying is going on, you need to stop it and you need to stop it now. This is the first time I've heard about this study, but it would not be tolerated by the board." Armstrong said that the board should look into creating a bilingual liaison office to hear parent complaints, and the district should work harder to bridge the language barrier between teachers and Latino parents so they feel comfortable bringing their concerns to the administration. Armstrong said that once when he was visiting Chicot, he stood outside a classroom and listened while a bilingual student tried to translate between a teacher and a set of Latino parents who spoke little English.

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