Monday night the Modesto City Schools board heard the frustrations of blacks worried that their children face a harder life because of long-entrenched policies within the district.
Board members said they will tackle those issues at a July workshop and take concrete steps to improve.
Although only one in 14 Modesto students is black or of mixed race, they are more likely to be disciplined, suspended and drop out.
"I went through it. I've got grandkids, they're going through the same things," community advocate Mack Wilson said.
That same imbalance existed in 2005, when the board created the outreach position filled by John Ervin, who is being laid off, said Jacque Wilson, who stepped to the podium with his father.
"We're taking a step backward here," he said. The younger Wilson grew up on Modesto's west side and is now deputy public defender for the city and county of San Francisco.
Wilson said he was suspended as a child in Modesto schools. "I went on, after Modesto City Schools had given up on me, to get my law degree," he said.
He said he sees firsthand the correlation between dropping out and crime and believes more minority teachers and principals would help.
Trustee Cindy Marks said she agreed. "It is important to hire qualified teachers of color and have those role models," Marks said.
The number of suspensions and expulsions went down this school year. But, Trustee Sue Zwahlen said, the statistics are still far too high, particularly for black boys. "It's alarming," Zwahlen said.
Wilson said lower rates is a first step but more needs to be done. "The reason I'm being real critical is because we want change. And you have the power to make that change," he said.
In other matters, the board:
Took action to keep gophers at bay, voting unanimously to add two grounds-keepers and train one more to have in-house expertise to clear the fields.
Voted to go to the movies, giving themselves more time to watch R-rated videos up for approval for high-schoolers. The vote was 4-3 to push the decision to the next meeting, with Trustees Steve Grenbeaux, Zwahlen and Rubén Villalobos dissenting. Films for a new American History Through Film class are mostly classics, including "The Godfather."
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2339.