Parents at school where Latino kids ate on floor say they plan to roll up sleeves, take action

The picture that sparked the storm, taken by one of the parents.

The picture that sparked the storm, taken by one of the parents.

The parents at a Colorado elementary school whose principal resigned after forcing Latino children to eat on the floor say they will no longer stand back and remain silent.

The parents had demanded the removal of the principal of Denver’s Cheltenham Elementary after a parent snapped a photo of one of the kids who was eating on the floor of the school's main office.

“We exposed the principal, and we demanded change – even though it took parents three times to demand change, our persistence has paid off,” said Carmen Alvarez, one of the moms who headed the protest along with the local organization “Padres & Jovenes Unidos, in a statement sent to Fox News Latino.

At the time of the incident, the school said it was punishment for acting out and was never about race. Officials said it was meant to make sure punished kids didn’t miss lunch.

But parents weren’t having it. The parents handed in a petition with 130 signatures and demanded that Principal Kalpana Rao be removed from her job – immediately. A few days later, Rao quit.

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Still, Alvarez said, their “important victory” is just the beginning.

They are demanding to be part of the process to pick a new principal and feel they need to be consulted more school issues.

“Now we can look forward to changing this school,” Alvarez said, adding that in-school suspension increased eight-fold during Rao’s tenure and two out of three students are failing. “Cheltenham is in the bottom 10 percent of schools in the state of Colorado. Denver Public Schools can’t just remove the principal, say it’s fixed and forget it.”

Mariana Guerrero, another mom involved in the fight to remove Principal Rao, said the episode was “a clear example of institutional racism.”

“Cheltenham is but one failing school in a sea of failing schools at DPS,” she said. “While DPS doesn’t have a problem educating white children – over 80 percent of children are at grade level, DPS consistently fails Latino children – about 40 percent of Latino children are at grade level.”

Guerrero said she was disappointed that it took the media to call attention to the issues at the school for the school board to take action. It was time, she said, for the school to listen to the parents. And it was time for the parents to roll up their sleeves.

“Many times, only when the media has showed up has DPS apologized. Many times, only when the media look at them do they take us seriously,” Guerrero said in a statement. “Many times, we are only believed by DPS if they watch us on television.”

In her resignation letter, Rao said that even though the district’s investigation found no basis for the alleged parent concerns, it has become clear to her that she may not be in the best position to help the Cheltenham community.

“I want to ensure that there are not any distractions from what should always be the primary focus – our fantastic kids,” she wrote.

Public schools in Denver began Monday. A back-to-school event for parents and students is scheduled Friday, August 28.