By Marcos Muñoz
On Sept. 6, 1949, Jefferson High School was opened as a response to community demand for a second high school in South-Central El Paso to alleviate overcrowding at Bowie. More than 70 years later, members from this same community have found themselves once again having to fight for their schools.
With the school board unwilling to listen and district staff unwilling to compromise, parents and organizers are left with no other option but to file a civil rights lawsuit against El Paso Independent School District demanding the reopening of Beall and Burleson schools. As a professional educator serving this community, I believe it is an indictment on the leadership of EPISD that the families of Chamizal have had to fight tirelessly for years just so their children can have safe, quality schools in their neighborhood.
And now with the commissioner of the Texas Education Association promoting in-person instruction by the fall, it is absolutely necessary that the school board can ensure proper social distancing on campuses. With the level of crowding we saw last year in Zavala and Douglass, it does not seem possible that such a thing can be done without bringing back Beall and Burleson. In this time of great need and uncertainty, it is immoral to take away from the people who need the most.
Educators speak about the “hidden curriculum,” the unspoken messaging that students internalize as a result of their environment. The hidden curriculum in South-Central El Paso is not hard to see.
Students from this community know what it means when their playground sits under a bustling international bridge. They know what it means when a bus hub is built behind their stadium. They know what it means when a recycling plant catches fire right outside their school. They know what it means when even board members say they would not send their children to their schools.
No amount of social-emotional learning in the classroom and no amount of flashy rebranding from the district can compensate for the very real and insidious consequences of the decisions made by the school board.
There is a prevailing myth that parent engagement in schools is lower in low-income communities. But what other community has come out in droves to fight for such a fundamental need as a safe school? What other community has had to organize for years? March for miles? Wait endless hours to speak their two minutes without the basic decency of a translator?
What other community has had mothers and grandmothers go on a hunger strike just to get their students into the classrooms they deserve? The families of Chamizal know what is needed for their students to be successful and are willing to do anything necessary to fight for it. I can only imagine the boost to student achievement when EPISD begins to work with the community and not against it.
Now is the time to turn the tide on decades of racist decisions. Now is the time to repair the bonds broken in the community. Now is the time to carry the momentum of righting past wrongs that started with the decision to change the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary.
As an educator, I stand in solidarity with the families of Chamizal and call on the board to reopen Beall and Burleson, increase investment in South-Central schools, and, most importantly, apologize for the injustices committed against the families who have had to fight so hard and for so long for their schools.
Marcos Muñoz teaches math at Jefferson High School.
Cover photo by Dax D. Thomas