A Public Service Message from the American Income Life Insurance Co.Executive Offices, Waco, TexasBernard Rapoport, Chairman of the Board Equal Opportunity for Education Hondo is a small town in Medina County, Texas. In January 1974, several of its Chicano residents gathered to discuss their concern that certain deficiencies in the Hondo school system and certain discriminatory practices on the part of the administration and fa 1 culty were resulting in inferior education for Chicano students. Besides the personal experiences of those present which substantiated this concern, it was also pointed out that only one of 85 teachers and. administrators was Mexican American, only one Chicano had ever served on the seven-member Board of Trustees and, not only did the district lack a bilingual education program, but there was also evidence that some teachers were using disciplinary measures to discourage the use of Spanish outside of class. The discussion that went on about these problems resulted in the formation of Familias Unidas, an association of Mexican Americans who were either parents of students in the “Aiondo public schools or students theniselves. In subsequent meetings, Familias Unidas drew up a written statement of complaints in the form of nine demands and presented them to the Board of Trustees in a public meeting. At that meeting, the Board listened and various members commented, but the final outcome was a denial by the Board that any problem existed and a refusal to consider the demands because they had not been presented through “proper channels” in a “proper form.” A second meeting between Hondo Mexican American community members and the School Board was even less productive and, disillusioned with the intentions of the Board, Familias Unidas decided to stage a boycott of the schools. On February 14, about 140 Chicano students left school in a coordinated walkout. During the month that the boycott lasted, Familias Unidas members posted pickets across the street from the schools, marched in a parade through the streets of Hondo on a Saturday and published a newsletter giving information and perspective on the boycott. Familias Unidas contend that these tactics, used by them in an effort to hold elected officials and the school district responsible for nondiscriminatory, quality public education, are protected by our constitution and validated by a long history of their use in similar situations, to effect similar changes. The right to free association and assemblage and the, freedom of speech are cornerstones of American democracy. In fact, these basic rights were written into our constitution, in part so that our citizenry might have the opportunity to engage in activities that would result in constructive changes and responsible government. Therefore, the response of Hondo School District officials, apparently designed to curtail Familias Unidas activities without remedy for the situations they sought to change, resulted in MALDEF filing a suit on behalf of Familias Unidas against them. In an emergency meeting of the Board the day after the walkout, it was decided that criminal charges would be pressed and that the District would seek an injunction against the boycott. In addition, the Board also requested that the county judge issue to Familias Unidas a demand for information on the organization, including information on its membership, meeting place, dues, etc. MALDEF’s suit alleges that the School District’s response was designed to harass and threaten members of Familias Unidas, contrary to the First Amendment right to free association. Familias Unidas members were found not guilty of any criminal activity in State District Court, and School District members have admitted in sworn testimony that they had no use for the detailed information on the Familias Unidas organization they requested. The Texas State Statute that allowed the latter form of harassment was Section 4.28 of the Texas Education Code, a bill that had been patterned after a similar ordinance in Little Rock, Arkansas, in response to the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Section 4.28, which ostensibly is concerned with the peaceful operation of the public schools, allows county officials to demand organizational information from any group of persons who hinder, harass or interfere with the operation of public schools. The original intention of the Little Rock ordinance upon which Section 4.28 was patterned was to harass and interfere with NAACP desegregation activities in Arkansas. The Texas version of this device, Section 4.28, was enacted in 1957 in a special session of the Texas Legislature commonly known as the “Segregation Session.” Other anti-integration bills passed at this same legislative session included one bill allowing the governor to close schools threatened with enforcement of a desegregation order, and another establishing a state fund to pay school distrcts’ legal fees in fighting desegregation cases. To this day Section 4.28 is still on the books of the Texas Code. Its purpose appears to be to authorize harassment of groups seeking to obtain equal educational opportunities for minority children and to cast a chilling effect on such groups’ activities. It comes, of course, as no surprise that the impact of Section 4.28 in Hondo first fell on a group much like the NAACP in its minority membership and in the nature of its goals. MALDEF, through its Familias Unidas v. Briscoe case is seeking to strike Section 4.28 from the books. The Constitutional rights to freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom to assemble, the issues in this case, must be protected at all costs. An adverse decision was handed down by the United States District Court and we must appeal to a higher court. These are the kinds of issues we at MALDEF feel are important to insuring the equality our forefathers envisioned for our nation. Your support is needed if we are to continue to pursue basic civil rights for Mexican Americans in the legal forum. MALDEF 501 Petroleum Commerce Building 201 N. St. Mary’s Street San Antonio, Texas 78205 Enclosed is my contribution of Name Address City State Zip Maxe checks payable to MALDEF. Contributions are tax deductible. MEXICAN AMERCIAN LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATIONAL FUND 18 DECEMBER 16, 1977
You May Also Like
The documentary in Falfurrias is sinister and spiritual.