Ethnic Tensions at Glendale High School Lead to New Measures

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GLENDALE — An altercation on the Herbert Hoover High School campus in Glendale in October incited decades-old racial and cultural strife among Armenians and other ethnic groups, reflecting on the larger issue of racism across the country.

The consequences surpassed those involved in the fight, forcing the Board of Education to cancel the infamous “Battle for the Victory Bell” amid reports of threats, noting the safety of students as their priority. The cancellation of the annual football game, held between rivals Glendale High School and Hoover High School, upset parents and students alike who staged a walk-out amid frustrations with the Glendale Unified School District due to a lack of answers and clarity about the brawl that occurred among ethnically diverse students on October 3, 2018 — a fight that quickly went viral.

“We are looking into ties to integrate a transition program,” said Board of Education President Greg Krikorian, regarding the influx of immigrants into the school district. He noted that the incident became a bigger issue than it should have because proper measures were not taken at the outset.

“Our district made the mistake of not getting in front of it,” said Krikorian, who assured that the Board of Education will continue to come up with solutions as they meet with parents in the school district, which he describes as “civil and calm” conversations.

While Hoover High School and the Glendale Unified School District led a thorough investigation, details of the fight remain murky, the only constant being the agreement that the incident stemmed from a misunderstanding among different cultural groups on campus. The Glendale Unified School District stated that the initial cause was a verbal argument between two students, one of whom was offended when the other used profanity in front of a girl. Rumors, however, began swirling that the fight originated when a student spat on another with special needs, misinformation that the Glendale Unified School District said was “repeatedly proven false by site administrators and later by the district.”

In light of the incident and all of the surrounding controversy, the Board of Education has taken the stance of “communication, not confrontation” with an effort to find “common ground and common purpose” within the larger Glendale community.

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“Fear, prejudice, faulty assumptions and stereotyping have fueled animosity between various segments of our community,” said Krikorian, asserting that disciplinary action took place and multiple student suspensions occurred.

For Board of Education member Shant Sahakian, the conflict harked back to his days as a student at Hoover High School and the tension he witnessed there as an Armenian-American with a diverse group of friends, including Armenians and Latinos.

“It is incumbent on us as Armenian-Americans leaders to extend our hands to the broader community,” said Sahakian, who also serves as Glendale’s Arts and Culture Commissioner. “People in leadership can create opportunities for relationship building and we have a responsibility to build those bridges.”

A lifelong resident of Glendale, Sahakian identifies as both an American and an immigrant, giving him further perspective into last month’s incident.

“We need an open and honest dialogue on racism in our schools and community so we can learn from this and move forward together,” said Sahakian, who said that the fight brought to the forefront past issues, including the violence between the Armenian and Latino gangs and the subsequent murder of Raul Aguirre in front of the school in the year 2000, an event he refers to as “traumatizing” for both the Armenians and Latinos. “This incident brings back painful memories without closure for our entire community.”

Aguirre, a model student who was a senior at Hoover High School, was not involved in any gang activity and was merely trying to break up the fight. That tragic brawl, too, began with ethnic slurs and taunting.

“We have to work to break down racial barriers and heal a divided community,” said Sahakian.

Shant Sahakian

The Glendale Unified School District concluded its investigation in November and took the proper measures for disciplinarian action and resolution recommendations, although Sahakian says the work of resolving disparities among groups is ongoing.

“The incident stemmed between students who felt equally justified in their actions,” said Sahakian, who noted that because of the changing cycle of students every four years, integration remains a challenge.

“Our student population, staff and leadership cycle and change over the years,” said Sahakian. “We have to serve our constituents’ evolving needs to maintain a strong school district.”

He concedes there are “gaps” and it’s an “ongoing process” to identify and solve those issues. “The work is ongoing and mutually dependent upon our community and our schools.”

He remarks that it’s important to move quickly to dispel rumors and the circulation of misinformation, pointing out the importance of conveying accurate facts to the community in a timely manner.

As the next step, the Board of Education has set up mediations, workshops and additional security on campus. Restorative circles with a facilitator to encourage dialogue have also been organized so students can learn about one another and move forward in a more positive direction. The Board of Education notes that this is an important way to hold one another accountable.

“We believe in restoring and supporting our students,” said Sahakian. “The future of our community depends on every student receiving a high-quality education in a safe environment.”

While students are ready to close the chapter, the greater community, which remembers the pinnacle of gang violence among Armenians and Latinos in Glendale and the surrounding areas, are not as ready end the discussion.

Those feelings were shared by disgruntled parents and students at a Board of Education meeting in Glendale on Monday, November 5, providing a forum for those in the community to speak their minds.

Safety, Bullying Are Concerns

Contesting the Glendale Unified School District’s statement and investigation, Hoover High School senior and football player Jaiden Forster stated that the fight stemmed from members of the football team defending a special-needs student they allege was being bullied by an Armenian student.

“I witnessed the bullying so the district and its members will not continue to tell the community of Glendale that it never happened because I watched it,” said Forster, who confronted the student because of his actions. “He started to yell because he did not understand English so I communicated with his friend, who acted as the interpreter.”

Administration stepped in and the conflict was resolved, according to Forster. He insisted that he was not part of the fight on October 3, which started before he arrived.

“The cause of the brawl was much more than bullying,” concluded Forster. “It was racially motivated.”

Senior Guillermo Corrales, another member of the football team, noted his unhappiness at his season ending early due to the conflict and the “failure” of the District to understand and interpret the events leading up to the fight.

“We saw something that we felt we had to stand up for and we stood for it proudly,” said Corrales. “It hurts me that I know if I stand up for something that I don’t feel is right, that I’ll be the one who gets punished the most.”

Parents expressed disappointment at the Board of Education’s silence after the incident and for the cancellation of the “Battle for the Victory Bell,” requesting that the historic game be rescheduled.

“As a parent of a Hoover High senior who is the football team captain, I watched all of them work so hard for three years in anticipation of their final homecoming game and to watch it being taken away from them has been devastating,” said Teresa Alvarez.

A Glendale resident for almost two decades, parent Kipp Tribble said he is fearful for the safety of his two daughters and took the Board of Education to task.

“There is a bubble of intolerance that has been in our Glendale schools for years,” said Tribble. “The answer that it was a misunderstanding between kids points to an effort to dismiss an ugly topic.”

Tribble remarked that after the fight, social media was filled with threats of gun violence at Hoover High School.

“This is not a misunderstanding, this is hate speech,” said Tribble, who expressed his dissatisfaction that no meeting was offered to parents of Hoover High School students as rumors continued to grow.

“These constant changing facts make us all lose trust,” said Tribble. “All of us have a sickening fear of tragedies from the past repeating themselves at our schools and these mistakes must be fixed now.”

Laury Kelly, whose daughter is a senior at Hoover High School, of which she is an alumna, said she has experience working with immigrant communities and as a parent is frustrated and angry.

“Which rumors are we supposed to believe and which aren’t we supposed to believe?” asked Kelly. “Hoover is a microcosm of our society as a whole and racism, sexism and bigotry exists so we cannot just sweep this under the rug.”

Hoover High School PTA President Ibet Acevedo remarked that the community’s school, students and families can work together in an effective manner, while stressing the importance of inclusivity.

“I’m huge advocate for parent involvement, communications, fairness, helping where there is a need, building on relationships, building bridges, acknowledging when there is a problem and moving forward with solution-based options,” said Acevedo. “As a PTA we are ready to do that and holding the District accountable for their continued partnership, clear communication and transparency.”

Repeated attempts to contact Armenian students and parents for this article were not successful.

The Board of Education listened to parents and students and responded in an appropriate manner, acknowledging that racism played a role and that work has to be done moving forward.

“Everybody ran to their corners after this incident,” said Sahakian in his statement. “Armenians ran to defend Armenians, Latinos ran to defend Latinos and African-Americans ran to defend African-Americans and everyone stopped listening to each other.”

Sahakian said that while the Board of Education can’t take care of the racial issues across the country, as educational leaders, it is their job to resolve these issues on an ongoing basis in the Glendale Unified School District and the importance of working together as a community.

“This is an issue much bigger than our individual homes, individual communities and individual schools,” said Sahakian. “We need to all come together to break down those barriers.”

“I have a very vivid memory that was very difficult to handle as a student at Hoover when we lost a student in front of our campus,” said Sahakian. “And we all need to make sure that never happens again in this community and that is a collective responsibility.”

 

 

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