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Campus senior events deemed offensive to Hispanics

Thursday - 8/23/2012, 3:24pm  ET

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) - A Southern California high school canceled an annual dress-up day for seniors, saying that students who dressed as gang members, a U.S. Border Patrol agent and a pregnant woman pushing a stroller demeaned Latinos.

The June "Seniores and Senoritas" day at Canyon High School in Anaheim prompted complaints by two former students and an investigation by the Orange Unified School District.

"Enough was enough. I was hurt," said Jared Garcia-Kessler, 19, who graduated last year.

The event, held for at least the last three years, was approved by campus administrators and they have been ordered to undergo diversity and sensitivity training, the Los Angeles Times ( http://lat.ms/Q0RyNJ) reported.

"We are serious in our intent to provide effective action so that this will not recur," Aileen M. Sterling, the district's executive director of secondary education, wrote in an Aug. 10 letter summarizing the investigation.

Some seniors came to school wearing giant sombreros or fake mustaches, while others dressed as border agents, a gardener and gang members with bandannas and fake teardrop tattoos.

School administrators failed to tell students how to dress and were held responsible even though they immediately ordered students to take off the gang garb.

"Even if strict guidelines were provided, the result would still lead to hurtful and demeaning messages about the Mexican culture and to the students of the Mexican, Hispanic and Latino descent," Sterling wrote.

The school, which has a largely white faculty, is about 55 percent white and 16 percent Latino, the Times reported. It will offer an ethnic studies class for students and will hold an International Week activity, Sterling said.

Overall, the city's population of 336,000 is 53 percent Hispanic, 28 percent white and 15 percent Asian.

Anaheim's civic center area was rocked by several days of violent protests last month after police fatally shot Latino men. One was a suspected gang member who police say fired at officers during a pursuit. The other was a man, later alleged to be a gang member, who turned out to be unarmed.

Local investigations remain under way and federal authorities are considering whether a civil rights probe is warranted.

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Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)