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Race, sexual orientation, gun rights and educating immigrants — hard calls for Modesto agencies

Garth Stapley
Garth Stapley

Straight pride. New Colossus Academy.

Decisions affecting both controversial headline topics came down on Tuesday. The Modesto City Council took positive steps addressing the straight pride event proposed for Aug. 24, while board members at the Stanislaus County Office of Education laid an egg rejecting an innovative idea for a charter school serving mostly immigrant and refugee students.

City leaders find themselves in an uncomfortable position. They must respect straight pride organizers’ Constitutional rights to free speech and assembly, no matter how misguided. But they’re also tasked with keeping participants and all of us safe, and they know there is potential for anger and even violence if protesters show up and confront the straight pride people, whose message glorifies whites and heterosexuals.

First, it’s good that the city has guided straight pride organizers to the plaza in front of the convention center, near the DoubleTree hotel, having denied an initial request to reserve Graceada Park which is surrounded by homes. Whether the plaza becomes the venue is still up in the air, because organizers have yet to produce insurance.

Second, the City Council did the right thing Tuesday with an official declaration supporting inclusion and diversity while denouncing hate and oppression.

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Because most city leaders remained strangely silent many days after the straight pride proposal put Modesto in a bad light in news reports across the United States, we took the quiet ones to task in a Modesto Bee editorial. To their credit, Modesto leaders stepped up Tuesday, letting the world know that “words, images and ideologies that feed fear, hatred or intolerance” are not welcome here, without singling out straight pride. Well done.

Third, the council banned from public assemblies common items that could become weapons, like sling shots, hammers, masks and shields. Police are mostly concerned about militant outsiders sensing an opportunity to fight. The council did well to hand Chief Galen Carroll another tool to throw water on potential sparks.

Fourth, the council dodged what might have become an ugly bullet by removing firearms from that list of items. Several gun rights supporters showed up Tuesday in rightful defiance of an early draft to this proposed ordinance, which might have kept holders of concealed weapons permits from exercising their Second Amendment rights. Taking out that potential firestorm was the right move.

It’s a shame that SCOE’s elected board didn’t use similar common sense when they turned down a charter for New Colossus Academy. Rather than listen to those with the most experience working with English-learning teens — as well as numerous supporters of vulnerable populations and community groups representing people of color — board members chose instead to bow to the power structure.

We don’t know why board members Kim Rose, Mary Ann Sanders, Alice Pollard and Chinyere Nnodim-Jack denied the charter, because none clearly articulated her reasons. Kim Spina said she was not satisfied with the procedure, and she stood alone behind New Colossus.

We do know that superintendents of a dozen school districts throughout the county opposed the charter, and that SCOE staff members — who deal with these superintendents — urged denial. Those districts would lose big money for every English learner who had opted to switch to New Colossus.

“How selfish, opposing this just on politics,” audience member John X. Mataka said, sensing the outcome before Tuesday’s vote. “Politics and a `good ol’ boy’ attitude still exist in this community.”

We’ll never know how many students might have chosen New Colossus, which would have been run by experienced staff from the Language Institute, and how many might have stayed at Davis. Seeing more of an open market in education — with options to choose among — might have proved fascinating.

Because the power structure got its way, the monopoly remains.

Trouble seems to arise when something creative and new threatens something old. That’s why the New Colossus idea was controversial. It’s too bad county education leaders were unwilling to overcome that, for the sake of a vulnerable segment of our children.

Garth Stapley is The Modesto Bee’s Opinions page editor. Before this assignment, he worked 25 years as a Bee reporter, covering local government agencies and the high-profile murder case of Scott and Laci Peterson.
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