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Racial Discrimination in San Mateo Union High School District?

The U.S. Department of Education is investigating discrimination complaints against the district.

According to reports by multiple news outlets, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights has launched an investigation into claims of racial discrimination against the San Mateo Union High School District.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the complaint was lodged by a handful of local families who claim their Chinese children were transferred out of "a high-performing high school"—namely, —to "a lower-performing high school"—.

The Office of Civil Rights said the complaints allege that the Chinese students were discriminated against by the school district because it held them "to different standards for demonstrating residency or guardianship than students of other races or national origins.” 

However, Kirk Black, associate superintendent of human resources and administrative services for SMUHSD, told The San Mateo Daily Journal that there could be any number of reasons for the students' placement at Capuchino, though they requested to attend Mills.

Black cited examples such as school capacity issues; that other students were sent to Mills because of a need for better English-learner classes or a need to make up units that are not offered at all schools; or because too many other students had seniority because of siblings at the school, among other reasons.

The school district sent out a statement in response to the allegations, which the Daily Journal published, saying: "The Office for Civil Rights is investigating a complaint, and the district is fully cooperating with the investigation. We cannot, however, comment on the substance of an ongoing investigation."

Patch is attempting to contact the parties involved and will update this story as soon as additional information becomes available.

Lo July 26, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Racial discrimination in a school that is what.... at least 60% Asian? I doubt it.
Antonio Catpo July 26, 2012 at 04:16 PM
I agree with Lo, this complain doesn't make sense.
Sarah T. July 26, 2012 at 06:22 PM
does the families live in Millbrae and were denied? Or were they living in SB and requested to go to Mills? That is an important detail that is undisclosed.
Nate Asuncion July 26, 2012 at 11:33 PM
If kids live in Millbrae they should go to Mills High School. Don't let people choose where they want to go for a public high school. That's why it's public, it's already free, just go to school. If your child wants to do good in school, it won't matter what school they go to. If you want to choose schools send your kids to a private school. Parents these days take public schools for granted.
Judy July 27, 2012 at 01:26 AM
I totally agree with Nate. Children should go to their designated school. If a parent wants a "so called" better public school, they should move in that area and pay the taxes for the "better" school they attend, instead of paying taxes for a school the student doesn't even attend (transfer student) . . . . that's foolish. So true, a student's performance will be the same regardless the school they choose. It's all about good parenting and staying connected with your child's studies. The high functioning Asian Student mentioned in the article can enroll in the IB Program at Capuchino, which is the most advanced program offered only at Capuchino High School. Regardless of which high school a student attends they all end up at the same universities.
Mike July 27, 2012 at 04:18 AM
Judy/Nate - There are actually areas within Millbrae that do not allow those children to attend Mills and are actually in the Capuchino area. Simply living in Millbrae doesn't automatically guarantee enrollment at Mills. Also because Mills is on the Millbrae/Burlingame border, those students living one block away(or less) from the school, but in Burlingame city limits wouldn't be allowed to attend Mills and would be "forced" to attend Burlingame HS.
Michele Magni July 28, 2012 at 01:08 AM
Let's remember everyone wants what is best for the child and that is what is important. Parents shouldn't dictate which school a child goes to, many times this happens and you take a child away from his/her friends and the environment they are use to. As Judy pointed out Cap does have the IB program and if a parent or child feels that they need higher functioning classes and challenged this is what they can do. Look at the math scores for both Cap and Mills over the last couple of years and see what that will tell you about Cap. Cap is a great school with great kids, and many different opportunities for everyone no matter what race they are.
Judy July 28, 2012 at 01:40 AM
Mike, I am well aware of the school boundaries, that's what this is all about. An asian family living within Capuchino HIgh School wanting to attend Mills.
Heidi Beck July 28, 2012 at 05:36 AM
These were students living in Millbrae.
Heidi Beck July 28, 2012 at 05:43 AM
There are good reasons to allow intradistrict transfers. San Mateo, for instance, has an outstanding performing arts program that attracts students from throughout the district. Some students are attracted to the small learning communities that are offered at Hillsdale. The district put the IB program at Cap because it wanted to attract students from the entire district. Not every student wants to go to his/her assigned school -- some kids want to get out of their comfort zone and be with a different group of people. Some kids actually need to get away from an environment that has become toxic for them and start somewhere fresh. There are good reasons for a district to have an intradistrict transfer program.
watchfultaxpayer July 29, 2012 at 07:16 AM
Didn't something similar to this occur re Lowell High School just a while back? It is predominately Asian students but some didn't get in and were compaining. I was told by a realtor that on more than one occasion a client living inAsia buys a house in Millbrae sight unseen wiring the cash payment in full and then sends their child/children here to attend Mills High school often supervising themselves in the house or occasionally having an extended family member look in on them. I had no reason to doubt her information. As for Cap it once was known for its Band Department, not unlike SMHS's Drama Department. It was stellar because of parents partidipation with fund raising. They had top of the line uniforms and instruments and as I understood it marched in Bowl parades and one Presidential innauguration. I was deeply saddened the past 10 years or so when I saw Cap in the Posey Parade. wearing khaki and polo shirts or jeans and green t-shirts. I suppose the majority of the parents no longer participate the way they once did. That is a shame. My children graduated from Cap also and they have gone on to be honest, hard-working, productive, tax-paying citizens. I asked no more of them. Cap gave them a good start in life as well as having two interested and participating parents. I believe education is rarely achieved without actively supportive parents.
Loryanne Rehne July 29, 2012 at 10:43 PM
I remember years ago I tried to buy a house in Millbrae where I grew up. I wanted to raise my family in the same town. I lost out to an Asian family who didn't even live in this country because they had cash. Sent my kids to St. Dunstan's and eventually left the area and moved to Reno. Much better place to live for us. We still visit Millbrae and always will. I attended Mercy Burlingame, because my parent's wanted a better education for me. Education is what you make of it. Families need to be involved. I teach that to the parent's of my students all the time.
Antonio Catpo July 30, 2012 at 04:01 AM
Maybe, after resolving this complaint, the district should conduct an audit of addresses to see if somebody is taking advantage of the system.
Edgar Rodriguez July 30, 2012 at 10:18 AM
People need to get over the myth of Cap being a ba school. Like honestly, I'm going into my sophomore year and there were maybe 2 fights there at most. People are still giving Cap a horrible reputation, like it did in the past, and haven't even bothered going there themselves to check it out. I can reassure you that it's not a bad school. At all. Not to mention that ever since Mrs. Shanks took the role as principle, our test scores have actually improved immensely and more and more people have joined the IB program over the years because of her. She inspires and encourages us to do well in school.
Millbrae Tax Payer July 30, 2012 at 04:30 PM
Edgar, you are a good example of what it takes to succeed... it's really all about the attitude. You can choose to head out of the house in the morning with a smile and do your best to have a constructive day or you can leave your house expecting to be bored and uninspired. People around you are lucky to hear and feel your good vibes. Keep it up!!!
watchfultaxpayer July 30, 2012 at 08:20 PM
The website for Mills, which is a year or two old, claims it is 51% Asian. If that is the case, although it may be higher, then that leaves 49% of the available slots to be shared by all the other race/ethnic groups. Descrimination ??? I think not. Loryanne's personal experience validated the realtor's experience. I was not surprised. But I was certainly saddened that a Millbrae-raised person was priced out by the abundance of foreign money wired to this country. Our country is being sold to foreign interests one house/business at a time. That together with owning our paper debt, what does the future hold in store or us ???
Michele Magni July 31, 2012 at 07:10 PM
My child is in the Cap band and they are trying to build the program back up. Mr Cottrell is doing a very good job of this. It is hard to build a band or orchestra program when the children don't start playing until 7th grade in most cases. We would love to see more parents get involved in the program and help out but I think you have more parents working and not being able to be as involved. Us parents who are involved are trying our best. Please do not put the music department down unless you know true facts about it. The kids that are in band are there because they are having fun and it is a great group. Cap is still a good school and the music department is an important part of that along with all the other groups there. So again please don't put it down. Things are different all around than they use to be.
Michele Magni July 31, 2012 at 07:12 PM
Nice to hear from a student that is actually at Cap right now. Thanks Edgar.
Sarah T. August 01, 2012 at 09:35 PM
I've always assumed that if your family lives in Millbrae, your children should be given priority in attending Millbrae schools (ES, MS & HS) SF Gate wrote a more indepth piece on this and the article revealed that the kids in question are living with "guardians, legal or otherwise. It's sad really, the bottom line is that as parents, we all want the best for our children, seems like rather than wasting energy on preferences, we should redirect our focus on how to make all schools, great schools. While I'm fiscally conservative and hate it when politicians use schools and public services as wedge issues to force tax increases, I am one who is voting yes on prop 30. Without this new funding, we won't be talking about who can get into Mills HS, but what teachers and programs will get cut. I am so nervous for our schools right now. I have two toddlers and one will be heading into Green Hill next year. I'm gravely concerned for what he'll be going into to. Parent engagement is extremely important to our children's success, but that assumes that we have a public school system is a healthy, sustainable and vibrant to compliment. Our children can not success in the absence of one or the other. I hope each of you on this thread will do your share!
watchfultaxpayer August 01, 2012 at 09:47 PM
I hope it didn't appear that I was putting down the present Cap band. That was not my intent when talking about the uniforms or lack of. I was attempting to demonstrate what does happen or does not happen whithout parental participation from the majority of parents. It speaks volumes that there is still a band at all. Some parents must be trying very hard. Again, I was not putting it down. Just trying to make a point that parents must take some responsibility for the success of their school and their children's experience.. Optimally, most parents should.
Eileen Moloney August 13, 2012 at 09:17 PM
I for one live in Millbrae and requested a transfer to Capuchino, even though I was assigned to Mills. I am a high-performing student going into my Junior year and have no complaints about Capuchino. Growing up in Millbrae and attending Millbrae schools, people were prone to form cliques and tended to be a little more judgmental about what you did or didn't have. At Capuchino, this is the exact opposite, everyone is so friendly and welcoming. The staff is fully committed to their students and always want you to strive for more. The way one of the former Capuchino Vice Principals, who is now over at Mills, explained it to be was that, "At Mills, if you're the kind of person who needs the majority of people doing well around you to do well, then it's the school for you. And at Capuchino, if you can do well with a smaller group of people doing well around you, then you'll do just as well there. But both schools are great schools". If you can't motivate yourself to do well at Capuchino and fully-immerse yourself into something like the IB program, that's a personal issue. But, I fully believe that that Capuchino is a fabulous school, and with a little bit of self-motivation, you can succeed at Cap.
Martin Ricard August 13, 2012 at 09:24 PM
Thanks for your response, Eileen. And good luck with the upcoming school year.
Judy August 15, 2012 at 02:23 AM
So happy to hear both Edgar and Eileen's positive input about Cap. As I have mentioned in other commentaries, both our children graduated from Cap and this year will be graduating from College. Capuchino was a good choice, as they would say.
Harry E. Smith August 19, 2012 at 09:04 PM
It's absolutely TRUE that you get out of an school what you put into it, as so aptly put forth by both Edgar and Eileen, and the parents who put in their time and commitment to make it better. Capuchino is a good school, with teachers, parents, and students to match, and a challenging IB program to will bring out the best in committed students. The REAL SHAME is the people who don't get their way wasting the public's time and resources by falsely "PLAYING THE RACE CARD" to hopefully force getting their way. A school that is already 51% 'Asian' is being discriminatory???? Get real!!!! Such immaturity needs to grow up and move on without the childish name calling, lies, and innuendo that hurt our schools and their mission to serve our children and community.
Leon Foonman August 24, 2012 at 03:39 PM
How awful, being forced to attend Burlingame, of all the nerve...

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