Racial tensions that marred Weston Ranch High School nearly a decade ago appear to be cropping up again.
This time, it involves a student who feels racial discrimination is behind her five-day suspension arising from an incident that happened on Dec. 5 in one of the bathrooms on campus. The incident involved the school’s evening custodian who is white. The student is black.
Trustee Ashley Drain— who was sworn in just a week ago to represent Area 2 which covers Lathrop and part of Weston Ranch — has become part of the story because she tried to intervene on behalf of the student. The student happens to be a participant in Drain’s free Emotional Development program. After listening to the student’s recount of what happened, Drain asked her why she was still worried when she was just doing the right thing.
The student’s response, according to Drain: “Ms. Ashley, I’m black, she’s white; therefore, I will always be the one in trouble.”
“Now, the fact that this student has this belief is something that has long haunted Weston Ranch High School,” said Drain, referring to the racial tensions that arose during the summer of 2005 – two years after the campus in Stockton opened – for alleged racial discriminations raised by the parents of the Cougar students at the time.
After hearing the student’s suspension story, Drain drove her to Weston Ranch and walked with her into the vice principal’s office where, as the trustee explained it, “I expressed my grave disdain for the poor choices this school is making on behalf of our students.
“She (the suspended student) was facing getting kicked off the basketball team and missing out on the prep for her finals. Just before her transcript grades were turned in. Was I a little ‘harsh’ or ‘hard’ at first? Yes, I sure was. It was an injustice done right before my eyes. I had already seen so many of these kids being treated in ways that lack cultural competence. I believe I was more floored than anything. My harshness was me fighting back the tears because I could not believe it.”
Drain said she spoke with Superintendent Jason Messer about the incident and said he “agreed with me… that the student should not have been suspended for it.”
Messer could not be reached for comment.
In the spirit of fairness, Drain added, “These situations overshadow the good teachers and administration (personnel) that should be praised for their hard work and dedication.”
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The Dec. 5 incident in high school bathroom
This is how Drain described the Dec. 5 incident which led to the student’s suspension.
The student was in one of the bathrooms on campus with three other girls. They were preparing for their basketball game, and they were “completely undressed.” The evening custodian, described by Drain as “an older woman” with whom she herself has had encounters in the past in the Give Every Child a Chance after-school program on campus, told the girls “who were getting dressed to get out of the bathroom (because) she had a job to do.” The custodian’s tone of voice was reportedly “extremely disrespectful.” That resulted in an exchange between the student and the custodian. It led to the custodian telling the student that she was going to get her kicked off the basketball team if she did not leave the bathroom.
“Mind you, the girls were still in the middle of getting dressed,” Drain said. “That led my student to expand on her frustration and call the custodian a b---h.” At the same time, the student marched straight into the principal’s office and “told on herself.”
Commenting on the unnamed custodian’s tone of voice, Drain said, “Anyone with proper diversity training and cultural awareness would fully understand the implications of talking to a child like that.”
However, it appears cooler heads and civility eventually prevailed. A few hours after the heated exchange in the bathroom, the student and the custodian crossed paths “and they both exchanged apologies,” Drain said, adding, “my student being the first to apologize.” She pointed out though that this occurred “way before the principal had a chance to discuss anything with the custodian.”
Drain maintains that “if the custodian was culturally competent, she would have never approached the student in that (disrespectful) fashion.” Without naming the custodian, Drain said that while working in the school’s after-school program, “I had a first-hand experience with that custodian and many of the people in administration. Unfortunately, it was like watching a circus act where the animals are poked and prodded into submission – the exact thing happening on the campus of Weston Ranch. The office administration (staff) are horrible with how they treat and talk to their students. You should walk into that office and see if you are greeted properly. It’s terrible.”
Drain went so far as to accuse Weston Ranch Principal Jose Fregoso of being apathetic to the plight of the school’s minority students.
“Weston Ranch does not have a supportive staff nor a supportive principal. The man (Fregoso) has four children that have never entered public school and has no clue how to deal with minority children,” she said.
She was thankful that she has had first-hand experience about all that is happening to the minority students at Weston Ranch because “without all the issues I’ve personally seen, I would have never ran for the board,” she said.
“They want me to be this angry black woman, and I am not. They want to be able to point the finger at me and say, ‘See, see!’ and I’m giving them nothing other than my shake-up.(I,) showing my face on a campus as much as I plan to is unheard of. Again, the parents that know me voted me in because they know the changes I am about to bring and how amazing their students are going to feel,” Drain stated.
“I am not the typical board member. I will be at East Union, Lathrop, and Weston Ranch (high schools) and other schools I choose. The reason why I chose Weston Ranch first is because I have had the most negative issues spewing out of that campus than any other one.”
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Administration officials respond to Trustee Drain’s allegations
When contacted on the phone, Weston Ranch Principal Fregoso declined to make any comment either on the incident or on Drain’s statements and referred all questions to either the superintendent or Deputy Superintendent Clark Burke at the district office. It was the deputy superintendent who responded.
Burke said he was not privy to the specific infraction committed by the student in the Dec. 5 incident.
However, he said, “It’s the responsibility of site administrators to make sure that the school site is compliant with school and district policies and state law. Not knowing the specific infraction of the student, I can’t support one or the other.”
He did point out that elected school district officials, district and site administrators are all there “to support the kids.” Administrators are there because they like working with the kids. They were, after all, teachers at one time. Board members, on the other hand, sign up to volunteer their services because they also want to support the kids.
“We have to find a commonality; we’re all on the same page,” Burke said.
Ashley Drain, who was installed on Dec. 10 as the Manteca Unified School District’s Trustee Area 2 representative after defeating 20-year board veteran Manuel Medeiros in the November elections, said her Emotional Development program which she runs to help students struggling with a variety of problematic issues in school is based on her own life experiences. She describes her free program as “a youthful life-coaching and total empowerment emotional development program” which she uses to help students deal with their behavioral, attitude, and school-attendance issues.