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'Survival of the fittest' 

Key findings of Operation Intercept.

Dr. Terry Trevino-Richard said one of the saddest moments during the Operation Intercept research was when he heard two Latino girls at two different elementary schools use virtually the same words when speaking about repeated incidents of sexual harassment they had endured at the hands of classmates: "I just want them to stop."

Of the 19 fourth- and fifth-grade Latino girls researchers spoke to for the Operation Intercept study, Trevino-Richard said, 16 reported they had been sexually harassed by their African-American classmates, some of them repeatedly, in ways Trevino-Richard called "shocking," given the youth of the victims and perpetrators. In one instance, a Latino parent spoke of her young daughter being sexually accosted in a girl's bathroom: "A black girl sneaked under the door [of the stall] and showed my daughter her private parts and told my child that now it was her turn to show her her private parts," the parent said. "My daughter ran out of the bathroom and went to her teacher and nothing was done. I also talked to the teacher, but they do not want to hear/know about this."

Just as pervasive as the sexual harassment were reports of violence and intimidation, even by young children, with Latino parents and students saying administrators, teachers and security guards often did nothing to intervene, even when informed of the incidents. From the same school as the bathroom incident: "Her son has been pushed during recess by black students and many times the security people are black and they laugh."

"What was disturbing was that in all of the schools we went to," Trevino-Richard said, "a common theme was predatory acts." Trevino-Richard said that some of the black students surveyed for the study said that "sexual harassment was how they played around with each other" in a joking way, an attitude that's likely at the root of many of the sexual harassment issues.

Though Trevino-Richard is careful to point out that there are good teachers at all the schools surveyed for Operation Intercept — teachers who care about both the black and Latino students in their care — some of the teachers who spoke with researchers seemed to dismiss lewd behavior in their school as a result of a more sexually permissive culture, or called bullying "horseplay."

"In many cases, they're just chalking it up to: 'Kids will be kids. It's normal,' " Trevino-Richard said. "It's not. It's not normal."

KEY FINDINGS BY SCHOOL:

HALL HIGH

Study conducted 2008

Latino students at Hall reported constant problems with bullying, sexual harassment, violence and gangs. Drugs, the study said, were "omnipresent at the school," with students telling researchers that alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs and cocaine were readily available there. Students reported numerous fights between Latinos and blacks, with Trevino-Richard saying the Latinos were beginning to form gangs to protect themselves. Latino parents noted an incident in December 2008 at the school in which a fight between a black student and a Latino student (which a former teacher told the Arkansas Times was the result of a drug deal gone bad) escalated into a near-riot. In that case, all the Latino students in the school were sent home for the day while black students were allowed to remain, which Latino parents "perceived as discriminatory action by the school."

Latino girls from Hall who spoke to the researchers said they often felt "sexually threatened" at school, with the summary of Hall High's portion of Operation Intercept stating: "Bullying and sexual harassment are serious problems at Hall. Girls noted that they were inappropriately touched by African-American male students. There was no indication from these students that any action was taken by responsible parties to stop this harassment." One girl said she'd been molested in the hallway. " 'I reported this to the teacher, and the teacher asked for names,' " the girl told researchers, "but I didn't know who they were.' Student doesn't know if the teacher did anything." The study said the Hall High teachers the researchers spoke with "have seen and witnessed all types of sexual harassment and bullying." During a focus group with black parents at Hall, Trevino-Richard said a black parent told researchers there was black-on-Latino discrimination at the school, but added: "It's just a survival of the fittest thing."

CHICOT ELEMENTARY

Study conducted 2007

Students said they were punished for speaking Spanish at school, including one incident in which a group of Latino students was forced to sit outside on the playground on a cold winter day without their jackets as punishment for speaking Spanish. "[A teacher] punishes us for 30 minutes in cold weather and laughed because we didn't have our jackets on," one student told the researchers, with another adding: "[She] didn't let us move or put our hands [on] our chest to be less cold."

Latino students said they were often harassed by black students in the classroom, on the bus, and in the hallways. Of the six fourth- and fifth-grade Latino girls who talked to researchers at Chicot Elementary, five said they had been sexually harassed by black students, with Latino students reporting mocking and bullying by black students as being "a constant issue."

"I don't want to do anything because next time it will be my turn," one student told the researchers. Asked what was the best thing that happened to him at school, another student said: "When the black kids don't bother us."

HENDERSON MIDDLE SCHOOL

Study conducted 2008

Latino students said teachers and black students became angry if they spoke Spanish, with one student reporting that a teacher told him: "If you cannot speak English, go back to Mexico." Students said there was "a lot of physical and verbal abuse" directed toward Latinos there, with several girls complaining about black males inappropriately touching them.

"One girl noted that she was being bullied every day by another black female student," the study says, "and despite reporting it, it continues daily." That girl told the researchers that the black girl tripped and continuously bothered her, hitting her on the head nearly every day. Every Latino student the researchers spoke with at Henderson spoke of bullying, drugs or gangs as part of the worst experience they'd ever had at school.

Latino parents told the researchers that they believed there "was a double-standard at school with regard to dress codes and language between blacks and Latinos," with their children often telling them about sexual harassment. The parents said they felt their children were "made fun of by students, teachers and other school staff members when they speak their language."

"All parents," the study says, "felt that their children are being singled out and many times disciplined differently than black students. This is especially true if there is a conflict between blacks and Latinos. Parents felt the black students are allowed to dress and conduct themselves inappropriately and that teachers and other school staff overlook their abusive language and behaviors whereas Latino students are reprimanded and many times suspended."

One parent said that after her daughter was sexually harassed by a black student, the girl reported the incident to both a security guard and a teacher, but was "ignored by both." When the parent went to school to complain, the parent said the principal told her he couldn't do anything about the issue. Another Latino parent related how her daughter was beaten by a group of black girls in a bathroom. After she came to school to talk to the principal on three different occasions, the parent told researchers, "She was told that he could not help because she didn't have proof that the incident really happened."

Latino parents at Henderson said that while there were good teachers at the school who cared deeply about all the children there, they felt their children were routinely ignored by some teachers and staff. Parents reported their children were sometimes robbed and harassed by black students but were punished if they tried to defend themselves. "If our children do not follow the school dress code," one parent told the researchers, "they are reprimanded, but black students can come to school with their pants hanging low and wearing inappropriate clothes. They are not called on. If our kids wear T-shirts with Spanish messages, they get picked on. Black teachers defend black kids but punish the Latinos."

Henderson teachers in the educator focus group seemed to dismiss the claims of bullying and sexual harassment, telling researchers that the inappropriate language and sexual touching they see students engaged in "is normal for teen-agers at this time in our society. They felt that some people may see some of the behaviors as bullying or harassing, but that it is really just 'horseplay.' "

TERRY ELEMENTARY

Study conducted 2007-2008

Latino students reported that they were punished if they spoke Spanish. "If you say a word [the teachers] don't understand," one student said, "they tell the principal and he (the principal) calls my mom and dad."

"Bullying and sexual harassment is a serious problem identified by the students," the study said. "These problems seem to be disproportionately perpetrated by African-American students, according to the students."

Teachers from Terry Elementary felt frustrated by the language barrier separating them from Latino parents when trying to deal with student issues. "Teachers have seen and witnessed all types of sexual harassment and bullying," the study says, "but seemed reticent to suggest any ethnic pattern." Some teachers told the researchers that the district handbook was not followed when it comes to bullying and sexual harassment. "We have a bullying policy and they do not enforce their own policies and that does not have anything to do with [the victim] being an immigrant," one teacher said. "The district ignores issues."

Terry Elementary Latino parents surveyed for the study said that they also felt alienated by the language barrier, and said that it was one of the reasons they didn't go to the principal's office to complain about the abuse of their children. "Parents did not feel the teachers or administrators were doing anything to stop this problem of bullying and inappropriate behavior."

WAKEFIELD ELEMENTARY

Study conducted 2007

While Latino students were generally "very positive about their enjoying their school experience," at Wakefield, they also reported high levels of bullying and harassment by black children at the school, with several Latino kids reporting "physical altercations, mostly with things being thrown at them."

"Level of sexual harassment for 4th/5th graders was very disturbing," the study said. "Black student exposing himself, touching, verbal abuse. Students did not report this activity often, and when they did, they felt nothing happened."

Teachers in the Wakefield focus group said that they "felt that the overall policies to stop bullying or inappropriate activity were clearly stated, but were simply not enforced."

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