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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended April 16, 2000
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News about Mormons, Mormonism,
and the LDS Church
Sent on Mormon-News: 11Apr00

Summarized by Kent Larsen

LDS Accused Of Bias In Arizona
(Phoenix) AZ Republic 10Apr00 D4
By Edythe Jensen and Heather Romero: The Arizona Republic


Mormons keep high profile in Gilbert schools
(Phoenix) AZ Republic 11Apr00 D4
By Edythe Jensen and Heather Romero: The Arizona Republic

GILBERT, ARIZONA -- Complaints by black students in Gilbert, Arizona have led the East Valley Chapter of the NAACP to file a federal civil rights complaint against the Gilbert Unified School District, saying that the district discriminated against blacks, looking the other way when they were harrassed. While the complaint itself doesn't implicate Mormons, the statements made by the NAACP and by the students and parents involve say that the district favors Mormons over everyone else.

"I've never been called (a racial expletive) so many times as I have been here," said Racquel Rocio, 17, a student at Gilbert's Mesquite High School. Rocio claims to be a victim of the school's double standards. She says a White student last year threatened her on campus, saying, according to a police report, "I'll kill you! I'll kill all your (racial expletive) friends. . . . I'll brand you with a swastika sign on your butt." But while Rocio was suspended because of the incident, the White student was not. The parent's complaints range from racial slurs to a black child being forced to play the role of Buckwheat in a school play.

NAACP East Valley chapter president Floyd Galloway says that one of the sources of the discrimination is favoritism toward Mormons, who are one-third of Gilbert's population. According to the Arizona Republic, one current teacher, two former teachers and a former administrator agree, saying that administrators would tell teachers to overturn discipline and raise low grades for Mormon students and then threaten teachers with probation if they didn't comply.

"I saw things being done to kids who are not White and not Mormon that wasn't done to kids who were," said former teacher Pam Hickey, who quit after a group of sixth--graders spit all over her car and weren't disciplined. "What's happening in those schools is illegal. People's rights are being trampled."

But Gilbert Assistant Superintendent Clyde Dangerfield, who is an LDS Church member, doesn't think that any overt discrimination exists, "We need to work harder at these issues and we're doing that," he said. "But it's certainly not been anything that's been done intentionally that I'm aware of." He says the school district is developing a policy that prohibits racial slurs, and will start tracking discipline by race to see if patterns of discrimination exist.

But former Gilbert administrator Diana Likes, who left when the school board declined to renew her contract in 1996, says that a "supremacits attitude" has permeated the district for years. "Skinheads were terrorizing kids at high school when I was there," she said. "Every time we'd try to discipline certain kids, the administrators blamed the teachers, and the kids knew they'd be backed. Gilbert is paying the price now."

And another former teacher, Diane Paetz, says that the discrimination comes from influential parents, who push the administrators into inequities in discipline, awards and grading. "If you were a student and weren't Mormon, forget about running for student office," she said. Rocio says this is still true today, "Black students don't run for Student Council. We don't have a chance," she said.

A follow-up article today contained additional details of the alleged discrimination, and supports the conclusion that influential parents push the administrators into creating inequities. One Mesquite High School Teacher says that when both Mormon and non-Mormon students break the rules, only the non-Mormon students are punished. "That's true in any district," he said. "If you know the right people you get away with more."

And LDS Church spokesman Wilford Anderson reacted with concern to the article, seeking to meet with East Valley NAACP President Galloway and other civil rights leaders about the issue, "Our church and every other church teaches that we are all brothers and sisters in the eyes of God, that racism is wrong," Anderson told the Republic.

LDS seminary classes have become part of the issue. The classes, and LDS customs, like the popular "CTR" ring tend to set students apart from others. But Assistant Superintendent Dangerfield says that seminary classes shouldn't be held against LDS Church members, "The fact that they're very active and want their children to receive religious instruction shouldn't be held against them. Any religious organization has the right to be released from school for religious instruction."

And fellow students complained to the Republic about "CTR" rings. One student, Mesquite High junior Adam Carroll noted, "Mormons stick together. Gang colors aren't OK, but Mormons can wear those rings."

Dangerfield admits that some LDS teachers are open about their faith, going as far as to put up pictures of the LDS Temple in their classrooms, which may cause freedom of religion problems for the school district. "How much of it is a freedom of expression issue for that individual vs. a violation of church and state," he said. "It's a very fine line."

But not all LDS students feel like they have been favored. 15-year-old Matt Bingham, a freshman at Mesquite High School, says that he hasn't seen it. "I'm Mormon and I have bad grades."


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