When Coral Avilez went to school on June 11, the seventh-grader knew two things: She would get to watch Mexico play South Africa on TV that day, and she would get to wear the Mexico shirt she had bought while on vacation earlier in the year.
What the 12-year-old didn’t know was that the shirt would touch off an incident that would send her fleeing from class and spark an investigation into racial animosity.
The game was already on when Coral walked into performing arts class at Big Bear Middle School in Big Bear, Calif. As she sat and watched, her teacher saw her shirt emblazoned with the Mexican colors and, in front of the entire class, asked if she supported Mexico, according to Leroy Martinez, the vice president of the local League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).
According to Martinez, Coral thought she was being asked a soccer question, and answered yes.
“Then what are you doing in my country?” the teacher asked, according to Martinez.
Stunned, the American-born student asked, “Why?”
“Because people like you make me pay higher taxes and make my insurance rate go up,” the teacher replied, according to Martinez.
Confused and hurt, Coral then ran out of the class crying.
But that wasn’t the end of it, Martinez said.
When Coral’s mother showed up to take the girl home, he said, she was told she would have to wait. Coral was being questioned about the incident by a group of school officials, including the teacher who allegedly made the remarks, and had to sign a paper before her mother could take her home.
On Monday she asked not to go back to class, and she was given two choices: sit in the principal’s office and read a book,or pick up trash with the janitor. Martinez said Coral felt uncomfortable in the principal’s office, and she opted to picked up trash.
Tim Larson, the school board’s director of personnel, was assigned to investigate the incident. The superintendent’s office said that he was the only one authorized to speak about the matter. He did not return a call left with his secretary, who said he was doing interviews.
Now the girl and her mother, supported by local civil rights groups, are asking that the teacher’s conduct be investigated for possible disciplinary action. The teacher later apologized to the class, according to local newspapers.
“The school has agreed, and we will meet with the superintendent this week to make sure that the investigation doesn’t drag on,” Martinez said. He said that there had been similar incidents in the area but this was the first time someone had come forward to complain. He said kids were usually intimidated by the teachers and afraid of repercussions if they asked for help.
Lizette J. Olmos, communications director of national LULAC office, said that the case was important not only because it showed racial animosity against the student but because of the rising tide nationally of hate crimes.