And to a Community Open School
or Political Education 301
1964. Lyndon Johnson against Barry Goldwater. About which election William F. Buckley famously said, “They told me if I voted for Barry Goldwater we would escalate the war in Vietnam. I did, and we did.” (Ask an elder anti-war activist.)
I was entitled to vote in the federal presidential election even though not the state or local elections. I had just moved to California. Or more accurately, I had been moved to California. I mounted our aged brown and tan Ford station wagon with the cancerous fenders–salted roads in Wisconsin winters– and braved the freeways from Baldwin Park to downtown Los Angeles, the polling place for newcomers such as I. Those pioneers in covered wagons on the prairies could not have felt more at risk.
A year was spent scouting cities within reasonable commuting distance to Don Crawford’s employment, and waiting for our house in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, to sell. We chose Fullerton. I looked about for something to do in the public volunteer sector. During that year in Baldwin Park, I had met Democrats and participated in a convention of Democrats. The delegates seemed entirely passive to me; just sat and listened to a leader tell them what was what. Weird politics in California.
In Wisconsin, every four years, the Democrats and the Republicans in convention met adopted a platform, and candidates ran on their respective platforms. The Dems’ platform committee one year were considering adopting a sales tax plank to the platform. Our governor, Gaylord Nelson, who would later found Earth Day, told delegates at the Friday dinner: “It is your party. You can adopt a sales tax plank if you want. But if you do, I cannot run on that platform. You can get yourself a new candidate, but I cannot get myself a new conscience.”
No such politickin’ in California. There were three Republican parties and four of the Democratic persuasion. Seemed to me to be involved in politics in California, one would have to have a lot of time or a lot of money. So I cast about for something else and found the Fullerton Fair Housing Council, the first such organization in Orange County. Thereby leading to my being a founding mother of a publicly funded alternative school.
Fullerton Elementary was a segregated school district. Administrative staff were concerned. We had a famous Orange County integration case eight years precedent to Brown v. Board of education, the Mendez case in Westminster, filed in 1946. But, according to insiders, Dr. Parks (awarded a Ph. D. in 1963), kept his head in the sand, refusing to see any integrating action. Maple Avenue School, in the ghetto, was 98.6% minority. Part of the process of segregating students was that if families moving into the area had Spanish surnames or were Black, they were enrolled at Maple. An Anglo family would be assigned to Ford, or perhaps Richman or Orangethorpe Schools. The other part was discriminatory real estate practices.
A new superintendent came to town in September 1970. D. Russell Parks finally retired and his reign of segregation was over. First thing Superintendent Robert Crawford set about was to address the “ethnic imbalance” of the Fullerton Elementary School District.
That was the cover story for closing Maple Elementary School. “I never did understand why they closed Maple School,” said a woman who had been in the last Maple sixth grade class in 1972.
The actual underlying reason for closing Maple was that the residents of the new and affluent neighborhood called President Homes wanted their own elementary school. The nearest was Rolling Hills School. The objection to that school by the President Homesians was that their darling children would have to cross Brea Boulevard, it was said. But financing assistance from the state was allocated only on the basis of school facility square footage per pupil. Therefore, to get state financing, Fullerton Elementary District had to have less classroom space.
Crawford’s plan included the formation of a citizens advisory committee which was intended to recommend closing Maple School, 98.5% minority students. Without a neighborhood school, all those students would be bussed to various other schools. That ultimate plan was adopted by the school board, but rocks arose in the road to its achievement.
D. Russell finally retired. Robert A. Crawford, Ph. D., rode in to town and dared as his first task correcting the ethnic imbalance of the district. He decided to convene a committee of citizens to develop and propose integration alternatives for his board of trustees to consider. This was announced in the district newsletter, “Board News,” December 1970. The announcement stated that “The only school in the Fullerton District that has a racial or ethnic imbalance is Maple Avenue School.” Like all-Anglo or predominantly Anglo-attendance schools were not ethnically imbalanced?
Crawford had already sent forth a call in a letter December 1, 1970, to civic groups to appoint delegates to his committee. I saw a report of that call in the Fullerton News Tribune, a daily paper in those days. I telephoned Lorril Senefeld, chair of the Fullerton Fair Housing Council (the first such in Orange County). “We need a representative on that committee,” I said, “and Mary Stewart would be an ideal choice.” Lorril called back 20 minutes later. “Mary said no, and said that you would be a good delegate for us.”
Thus began a marvelous political education and experience, and the founding of a school my middle child was seriously in need of. Well, they all were, but none so acutely.
“The Fullerton School District Human Relations Advisory Committee was called to order by District Superintendent Robert A. Crawford at 7:40 p. m.,” reads the minutes of February 18, 1971. We were 25 good citizens and true, and this included seven employees of the school district, only one of whom, Danny Gomez, was a “classified” employee, meaning he did not work in the classroom nor in administration. Six of the committee members actually lived in the Maple school neighborhood, including Phyllis and Jose Estrella, members of the Maple School Parent-Teacher Association, who lived on South Brookhurst Avenue.
The superintendent read us the law, defined our goals and “outlined some of the tasks which the group might wish to accomplish at its initial meeting.. “ First thing, we adopted a meeting time. Next, we elected a Chairman. Roland Hiltscher, Rotary Club rep, nominated John T. Jimenez, principal of Maple school. Jimenez was one of two district representatives on the committee.
Well, none of us knew each other, but we all knew John Jimenez, so he was forthwith elected. That was Hiltscher’s appointed task, apparently, to assure Jimenez would be chair of the citizens committee. His name never appeared on another list of attendees as chronicled in our minutes. One of John’s claims to fame was that he was nearly hit by a car while crossing Lemon Street on Valencia Avenue, formerly known as Maple Avenue. As a result, the city installed traffic lights at Lemon and Valencia.
Belated lesson: “You dummy! When a committee is assembled and you all don’t know each other, you elect an interim chair until you get to know who would be a good chair,” an experience politico scolded me. But we got our own back. In May, Jimenez wanted us to disassemble for the summer because he would be world-hopping for two months. We civilian members of the committee, having got up on our hind legs, voted to continue working throughout the summer, AND we elected an interim chair–me.
We began in February 1971. First thing we had done, at the behest of Peggy Martin, AAUW and Elizabeth Beebe, League of Women Voters, was to draft a statement of principles to be adopted by the Board of Trustees so that we could be clear as to what the Board policy was in regard to the obligations and expectations for our task.
John Jimenez sent us letters in early April to inform us that we had been divided into four subcommittees, A B, C and D, with chairs and co-chairs names. He wrote that we were “…to establish criteria to be met in formulating a plan for presentation to the Board of Trustees. In response to this charge, AAUW and League of Women Voters representatives Peggy Martin and Elizabeth Beebe proposed that we asked that a statement of principles to be adopted by the Board of Trustees so that we could be clear in the obligations and expectations for our task. Jimenez didn’t like that, but he could not block it. We drafted a proposed statement and the Board did adopt these guidelines June 8, 1971. Thus, the Board declared that if any neighborhood was entitled to a neighborhood school, every neighborhood would be entitled to a neighborhood school. A declaration entirely contradictory to what later became apparent the intended outcome of the advisory committee: close Maple School. But consistent with the final advice of their committee.
I was assigned to Subcommittee C as chair. Who my people were is significant in the result of C. They included Danny Gomez as representing classified employees; Peggy Marin, American Association of University Women; Kenneth Lasikar and Carol Crowl, Fullerton Elementary Teachers Association. A late-comer was Laura E. Stine. Laura had just concluded a run for the FESD Board of Trustees, and lost. She had asked Mimi Haas, leader of the Southwest Neighborhood Association, to appoint her to this Advisory Committee . This was a time in Fullerton of significant homeowners’ associations, the most active being the Northwest convened by Miriam Sheddon, who had also been the organizer of the Fullerton Swim Club. Southwest Fullerton was a neighborhood of apartments as well as homes, so to be inclusive, it was organized as a neighborhood association, rather than a homeowners association.
Laura soon started discussing “alternatives” in education. It seems alternative schools, mainly private, very, very few public, were popular in those semi-hippy days. She talked, and Peggy, Ken and Carol joined with her in education-ese discussions. I did not see where this had anything to do with integration. Those people had backgrounds in education concepts. I did not. After a meeting or two or three, I suggested that we should run this by the neighborhood, see how they liked the idea.
We announced to the neighborhood a meeting in the teachers lounge at Maple school. Only three persons attended: me, Laura and Danny Gomez. Laura explained the concept and workings of alternative schools and a process by which the district could thereby be integrated. Danny liked it.
Mentally, I shrugged: There go my people, and I am their leader.
We went to work. A big question was, could the schools be integrated under such a plan? We needed analysis. I recruited a computer programmer, my son, Matt Crawford, an eight grader who was a fan of Barry Goldwater. His seventh grade teacher was early into computers. I took Matt to night classes in data processing, Fortran and COBOL, while I went to auto mechanics for women. I bribed him to work with us liberals by offering him access to the computers at Cal State and Fullerton College. We had an in at each place.
His four-foot long print-out showed the possible outcomes depending on what numbers of black, Hispanic and Anglo parents chose what plan. Students would be bussed to the school of choice on an integrated basis. It could be done.
We, without John Jimenez riding herd on us that summer, adopted a new rule: If any member of a subcommittee felt more affinity with the plan developing in another subcommittee, they could switch committees. I think every person who was not a school district employee moved to Subcommittee C. Ultimately, the Advisory Committee by a large plurality voted to recommend alternatives in education to the Fullerton school board trustees. AND we voted that Laura Stine should do the presenting of the plan to the board. Jimenez had tried to head that off; he was heard to bemoan to the secretary, “They didn’t want anyone to talk!”
Laura did a great job. The essence of our plan was that the different elementary schools would be designed on the free-school model, the conservative discipline model, or the middle- of- the-road model. Parents and teachers could choose their preference for their children and for teaching in. Laura contrasted two popular football teams, one long-haired guys, one straight and narrow, as a metaphor to illustrate that you can have good outcomes with quite different lifestyles.
Quicker’n you could say Brown versus Board of Education our plans were summarily dismissed. See, the thing was, Plan A, B, C and D all included Maple School as a functioning school. We were supposed to have eliminated segregation in our elementary schools by eliminating the segregated school. The next advisory committee (which was for financial purposes) appointed by the superintendent was pointedly announced to the Board as a committee of “reputable, credible people.”
The school district staff was put to work and developed Plans E, F, G and H, each of which, duh! called for closing Maple. Later, the Maple neighborhood set about devising Plan Z.
Now here is good grass roots politics.
Final plans from each of the subcommittees of the Human Relations Advisory committee had been presented to the district Board of Trustees on October 12, 1971. Lorril Senefeld invited Superintendent Crawford to attend the November meeting of the Fair Housing Council. We convened in the meeting room of the First Presbyterian Church of Fullerton at the top of the hill on Euclid Street. The room was comfortably furnished with upholstered chairs and sofas. Crawford told us that the Board would indeed vote to close Maple school. This before any hearings of any sort! I was shocked.
Next day I telephoned Gloria Duron, committee member from the Maple neighborhood. “Gloria,” I said, “We cannot let them close the school with no notice to the neighborhood!” She agreed most strongly. How best to notify the people? Best way, Gloria said, would be to send home a notice with the school children. I told her I knew of an available mimeograph machine and someone who would probably translate. Gloria said she could see to the distribution. We wrote an announcement. We booked a room at the school–California law provides that schools shall give space to the public if a meeting is open to the public and no money is requested. We named our project the Ad Hoc Committee to Save Maple School.
I contacted Ana Christianson, a bilingual, politically active teacher I knew. She was delighted to translate. I called Levene Borgen, the representative from Golden Hill school She knew the president of the PTA, Bobbie Hine, and that Bobbie had a mimeograph in her home. Levene came to my house, picked up the English/Spanish announcement for a meeting to discuss the coming closing of the neighborhood school. She brought back to me 300 flyers, and I delivered them to Gloria.
The meeting took place in one of the portable classrooms on the Maple campus. The room was filled with men and women seated at all the tables. I don’t remember who among our advisory committee members we notified of the meeting. Members attending, in addition to me, were Laura Stine, Levene Borgen and Peggy Martin, AAUW. We nice, Anglo liberal ladies, stood in turns to explain what was about to happen and how it all came about, and why we were there. There was utterly no response from a single person in the room. Silence. One woman near me huddled, her chin in her collar, scarf covering her head.
We had done what we could. We looked and each other. We rose and walked to the exit. Everyone else stayed seated. Next to the door stood a fierce-looking young man in a khaki jacket, jeans, boots, a bandana around his head. MEChA, I surmised, a militant Hispanic organization on Fullerton Community College campus, as well as across the state. Several other similarly dressed, militant-looking young men were present. “What is going to happen now?” I said. “Don’t worry,” he answered. “We’ll take care of it.”
So they organized a Maple Neighborhood Council, but I think only men, and called upon Ralph Kennedy, local liberal activist and founder of The Fullerton Observer, who was then serving as a chaplain at Cal State Fullerton. He had also been a founding member of the Fair Housing Council which arose with members of the First Presbyterian Church. Ralph facilitated their committee which devised another plan they named “Z,” the final plan. They did not contact any of the advisory committee members for any comment, information nor insight.
Come the night the school board of trustee was to vote, their meeting was set at Wilshire auditorium instead of the regular location at the district offices. I was shocked to see police decked out in riot gear on the steps of the auditorium. The place was packed. Speaker after speaker advocated postponement of the vote. Only one “reputable credible” person said the trustees should vote now, and that was Molly McClanahan.
A new wrinkle had been discovered by the Maple Neighborhood Council: The state of California had a new law that required the Department of Education, through the Intergroup Relations, be involved in school integration plans. One Way bussing, it was believed, would not be acceptable. But that law would not go into effect until March. The FESD vote was set for February 8, 1972. The strategy, then, for those who wanted to save Maple schools, was to convince the school board to postpone their vote.
Robert Crawford had carried out a propaganda campaign. He talked with every civic leader, every minister and pastor, telling them the school district was trying to do the right thing; however, he claimed, there were “outside agitators” at work in Fullerton. (The earliest record of a claim of “outside agitators” in this country was pre-Revolutionary War, where native Americans were supporting the slave revolts in New York and were labeled “outside agitators.” )
Crawford had wined and dined, or at least lunched, the opinion-makers of the city. It was reported that he was propagandizing all the priests and ministers in town also. The one civic leader he convinced was Molly McClanahan, president of the League of Women Voters. Peggy Martin, head of the American Association of University Women, refused his blandishments.
At six o’clock that evening I had received a telephone call from Doris Stasse. She said the League had met that afternoon, and Molly was determined to back Superintendent Crawford. Doris said Molly had been out of the country for a year and did not understand what was going on. Elizabeth Beebe, the League’s representative on the citizen’s advisory committee, pleaded with Molly, to no avail. Elizabeth quit the League with a broken heart.
Doris asked me to call Molly to try to get her to change her mind. “I don’t know the woman,” I said. “Here’s her telephone number,” Doris said. “Call her.” I did. Molly would not listen to me, saying, “I’m having dinner with my family,” and hung up the phone.
Come the night the school board of trustee was to vote, their meeting was set at Wilshire auditorium instead of the regular location at the district offices. I was shocked to see occupying the entry steps police decked out in riot gear on the steps of the auditorium. The place was packed. Speaker after speaker advocated postponement of the vote. A representative of the State Office of Inter-group Relations attended this meeting and offered his services. He told the board the “integration” plan they were apparently about to adopt was legally unacceptable. He suggested that the Maple Neighborhood Council “Plan Z” could be modified so as to be acceptable.
Only one “reputable, credible” person stood up to tell the trustees to vote immediately that night to close Maple school and bus all the neighborhood children to other neighborhood schools, and that person was Molly McClanahan. The board needed just one such person to justify their proceeding.
After the school board closed Maple, Superintendent Crawford had called a meeting of the school parents to talk about the district’s busing plan. The room in one of the portable classrooms was filled with Maple neighborhood parents. They were not passive. They wanted a say in which children would be bused together to which school. Mothers wanted kids to go to school with their children’s best friends. Crawford just wanted to draw lines. People argued with him. That woman so repressed at my informational meeting was now speaking out loud and clear.
Crawford did not engage in conversation. No give-and-take. He turned his back on the community and walked out. He said he would come back the following week when they could behave better.
The following week, only one neighborhood person showed up. Levene and I were there again to observe. The man started to apologize for his people’s lack of participation. “Oh no” we said. We told him of the blatant rejection of the community by the superintendent the week before.
Crawford did not last long in Fullerton. He was fired, apparently on moral grounds. He had hired Fullerton New Tribune reporter Karen Grinstead as a public relations person dealing with the integration issues, along with a Mexican American as a Judas goat. Karen was a lovely young woman. Crawford was a good looking man. They began an affair, soon divorcing their spouses. The Board had tolerated the affair, but when they got married, that was beyond the pale. Board members would have to socialize with these two sinners at public events; that they could not accept. Last heard of, Crawford was working in Pacific Grove.
I think the administration approved an open school in order to keep us liberals busy and away from participating in the political consequences of closing Maple School. But it was cruel to place it in the Maple neighborhood school.
That first year we organized COS mightily and reorganized repeatedly. We were enabled unexpectedly by the indifference of the man assigned to the Siberia that was now Maple school: Frank Butler, a school principal in disgrace with fortune and district administrator’s eyes for some reason. He had only COS and a Head Start program or two to supervise. It was his last year of employment and he had no reason to make any effort to conform COS to any district dictates.
We functioned in total conformity with state education law regarding alternative schools. The law was fulfilled: our school was run entirely by students, teachers and parents. We even hired a new teacher, writing the job description, interviewing candidates, choosing one of them. The Education Code in defining Alternative Schools in the first iteration of that law alternating the placement of those three categories in each paragraph; the next one would be “teachers, parents and students,” “ then parents, students and teachers.” Laura and I had driven to Sacramento to lobby Governor Jerry Brown to sign the bill. Along with some consulting Laura made appointments for.
The 1981 amendment reduced such authority to merely being “maximized,”
1) No information about Community Open School is to be found at the Fullerton Elementary School District offices. At the Launer Room are a few papers donated by Roberto Melendez regarding the closing of Maple School.
2) California Education Code
Alternative Schools [58500 – 58512] ( Chapter 3 enacted by Stats. 1976, Ch. 1010. )
- The following notice shall be sent along with the notification of parents and guardians required by Section 48980:
“Notice of Alternative Schools
California state law authorizes all school districts to provide for alternative schools. Section 58500 of the Education Code defines alternative school as a school or separate class group within a school which is operated in a manner designed to:
(a) Maximize the opportunity for students to develop the positive values of self-reliance, initiative, kindness, spontaneity, resourcefulness, courage, creativity, responsibility, and joy.
(b) Recognize that the best learning takes place when the student learns because of his desire to learn.
(c) Maintain a learning situation maximizing student self-motivation and encouraging the student in his own time to follow his own interests. These interests may be conceived by him totally and independently or may result in whole or in part from a presentation by his teachers of choices of learning projects.
(d) Maximize the opportunity for teachers, parents and students to cooperatively develop the learning process and its subject matter. This opportunity shall be a continuous, permanent process.
(e) Maximize the opportunity for the students, teachers, and parents to continuously react to the changing world, including but not limited to the community in which the school is located.
In the event any parent, pupil, or teacher is interested in further information concerning alternative schools, the county superintendent of schools, the administrative office of this district, and the principal’s office in each attendance unit have copies of the law available for your information. This law particularly authorizes interested persons to request the governing board of the district to establish alternative school programs in each district.”
Further, a copy shall be posted in at least two places normally visible to pupils, teachers, and visiting parents in each attendance unit for the entire month of March in each year.
(Amended by Stats. 1981, Ch. 469, Sec. 3.)
Is this ever done?
ON TO COS…