Latino Parents Sue, Claim Dallas School Tried to Lure White Students

A Dallas public school "crossed the line" in trying to appeal to parents of white students, including the Parent Teacher Association president's idea to limit the number of Hispanics pictured in a brochure, attorneys argued Wednesday in a racial segregation lawsuit.

Latino parents at mostly Hispanic Preston Hollow Elementary School filed a federal lawsuit against principal Teresa Parker and the Dallas Independent School District in April. The suit alleges that Hispanic and black students were kept in English as a Second Language classes even when they tested out and that multiage courses with almost all white students were created.

"The defendants have crossed the line in this case with their attempts to segregate white children into separate classes, with their attempts to attract white students and ultimately with their attempts to halt white flight in violation of the law," David Hinojosa, a lawyer with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said in opening arguments before a federal judge.

Parent Ana Gonzalez testified that her 6-year-old daughter received the highest score on the district's English proficiency test but was placed in an ESL kindergarten class that was almost all black and Latino.

Her daughter had no Anglo friends, felt different, and when Gonzalez asked the principal why she was in that class, she said she was told children were placed according to their national origin.

She said other parents had similar experiences.

"We were very upset and indignant, but we could see that our children's education was not being valued equally," she said through a translator.

Marcos Ronquillo, an attorney for Parker and the district, said Superintendent Michael Hinojosa will be among many witnesses testifying to the district's commitment to equality in education and excellence.

"The majority of Latino students are in need of the English as a Second Language programs," Ronquillo told the judge. "They are receiving an equal education opportunity that is appropriate to the children's needs."

Attorneys for the plaintiffs opened their case by presenting an e-mail they said was sent by the school's PTA president. The e-mail said only a few Hispanic students would be selected to appear in a brochure intended for residents of Preston Hollow, one of the city's more affluent neighborhoods.

"The purpose of our brochure is to get more of our immediate neighborhood families that live in big expensive houses to reconsider those private tuitions and send their kids to us," the e-mail said, referring to students who attend private schools. "While our demographics lean much more Hispanic, we try not to focus on that in the brochure."

The school is about 66 percent Hispanic, 18 percent white and 14 percent black, Hinojosa said.