Hacienda Heights for Progress



Recall sought against board members of Hacienda La Puente

By Yolanda Arenales, La Opinion
February 28, 2011

With an Academic Performance Index near 800 points, and financial strength that has enabled them to avoid layoffs and increased class sizes, many would say that the School District Hacienda-La Puente (HLPUSD) is an oasis in the midst of the storm.

But on the school board weighs the threat of challenge to four of its five members, which some residents accused of “infiltrating communism in their schools.”

"Since we started the program Confucius Classroom, a small group of individuals has launched accusations against members of the Board, and now are attempting a recall," says Jay Chen, President of the Board, and defender of linguistic plurality.

Confucius Classrooms, the controversial program, is similar to the Spanish Cervantes Institute or the German Goethe and promotes the learning of their languages and cultures around the world and is taught in a dozen schools across the country, after having requested the Institute Hanban / Confucius, the Ministry of Education of China. Recipients receive free textbooks, reading materials, and even $ 30,000 for materials and tours of an academic nature. They may also request the free services of a teaching assistant.

But because of the debate and in an attempt to appease the community, HLPUSD has undertaken not to use funds provided by Hanban, simply deciding to retain the donated books.

The term of Chen, who speaks Mandarin and Spanish, and English, ends in December. But opponents have already begun collecting signatures to challenge his position as well as four of his colleagues on the Board.

Chen said the group leading the initiative to challenge consists of people who mostly do not have children studying in the district, with some of them even living outside its borders.

Obad Rudy, who appears at the top of the list of residents contesting several members of the school board HLPUSD, says that the Confucius program goes beyond teaching a language.

"What you need to do is teach our ways to those who come here. Many of these people still do not know English," says Obad, adding that board members who they wish to recall have made over 30 visits to China "to contact Communist agents “, and have spent more than $ 350 000.

But Chen said he has not even visited that country since he was elected to his post. "If I had embezzled that amount I would have been arrested. It is simply a case of xenophobia," he says.

Angela Wang, the Chinese language teacher, explained that the program’s contents are typical of learning any language, conversational phrases, basic vocabulary, numbers and days of week etc.

"There is no ideological content," says Wang, "it is a favorite class in school." Most students are Hispanic, the ethnicity for more than 74% of students on campus, many of whom already speak two languages.

"It seems some people just want foreigners to work hard and in silence, and do not want them to be empowered, even in education" says Chen.

Rudy Chavarria, a member of the Board who voted against adopting the program Confucius, is convinced that the division in the community is not racial.

"It all started with that program, that is sponsored by China," says Chavarria, the only member of the Board not being contested.

According to Daniel Tucker, who heads the Association of Teachers of HLPUSD, says a recall of the Board could cost more than half a million dollars, thus affecting layoffs, days without pay and other cuts that have so far been avoided.

"As an immigrant, and father of students in the district, I can only say that I wish my children had an opportunity to take this class," said Richard Yeh, during public comments at the last meeting of the Board. "This has nothing to do with political ideologies, but with educational opportunities."