Lincoln Public Schools needs to re-emphasize its commitment to multicultural education in the wake of the "green card" incident on an Omaha soccer field last week, several people told the Lincoln Board of Education on Tuesday.
"We need to rethink and readdress our multicultural perspective," said Marty Ramirez, a longtime Lincoln resident and community activist. "We need to go beyond token gestures."
In the 1970s, there was a lot of energy focused on multicultural education, but that energy seems to have diminished, he said.
Last week, in the moments after Lincoln East High School's boys soccer team beat Omaha South for the Class A state title, handmade "green cards" were tossed into the air as fans rushed the field. About 60 percent of Omaha South students are Latino, and the cards were an apparent reference to immigration status.
Ramirez was among six people who spoke to the school board during its Tuesday meeting, commending East High administrators and students for their reaction to the incident but stressing that it must be a catalyst for change.
"We have a grand opportunity to renew our commitment to diversity," he said.
East High administrators condemned the incident, and "less than five" students were suspended. A group of East High students met to discuss what they could do to make amends and educate others. They met with a group of Omaha South students last week, upperclassmen have spoken to ninth-grade classes and other exchanges are planned.
Kathy Danek, the newly elected board president, told those who spoke that the board values diversity.
"We found the incident that happened reprehensible," she said.
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Miguel Carranza, a sociology and ethnic studies professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said he appreciated that Danek had written an apology to the Omaha South officials, but he wished she'd expressed her opinions to the Lincoln community as well.
Shirley Mora James, president of the Nebraska Hispanic Bar Association, said she plans to gather affidavits from parents about similar incidents that have happened in other schools and meet with those schools. She learned of those other incidents during discussions with parents after last week's incident.
James and others were critical of the lack of response from the Nebraska School Activities Association. She urged NSAA officials to develop a policy and procedures to react to racially motivated incidents at sanctioned games. The Nebraska Coaches Association also needs to address the issue, she said.
"The assumption that all Latinos are illegal is insulting," James said. "It's 2010. We are not living in the 1950s anymore."
Cathy Maestas Graham, a teacher at LPS, said she recently heard of an incident where a Latino student was given a racially derogatory note and didn't feel comfortable telling anyone at the school.
That illustrates the work that needs to be done, she said, and she urged district officials to enlist the help of multicultural liaisons and others in the district.
Ramirez said the incident is a microcosm of what's happening in the city, state and country.
Reach Margaret Reist at 402-473-7226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.