COLLEGE PLACE — Following the example set by College Place High School’s Latino parents and students, about 50 people came together Wednesday evening to discuss issues at Davis Elementary School in College Place.

Latino parents gathered to discuss problems with busing and special education, in particular, and fears of discrimination in general.

College Place Public Schools officials were not invited to attend the meeting, which was covered by television and print media.

Sandy Garcia, an attorney with the Walla Walla office of Northwest Justice Project, took notes and offered to help parents open cases for their specific experience with the school district.

District Superintendent Tim Payne said this morning he is awaiting a formal letter from Garcia so he can appropriately respond to allegations from Davis parents.

However, he said, his door is wide open via personal visits, phone calls and notes to hear of concerns and problems from families in the district.

“I want all our kids to come to school and get a great education … I invite people to engage me in the conversation,” Payne said.

Initially some people at Wednesday’s meeting expressed fear of repercussions for their children from school officials if families made their concerns public. Before long, however, anecdotes from moms and dads painted a picture of two primary concerns at Davis Elementary, as follows:


Transportation

This topic ranged from concerns about bus stops to driver behavior. Parents recounted incidents of bus drivers failing to use the bus stop signs when letting children off at Valle Lindo agricultural worker housing to children being erroneously left at the wrong stops.

The children who live at Valle Lindo are always the last to be dropped off after school, but also the last to be allowed to leave the bus in the school’s parking lot in the mornings, they said. That causes those students to be the last to breakfast, leaving them about 15 minutes to go through the line and eat, parents said.

“Or they don’t eat at all,” one mother said.

Bus drivers appear to use different rules inside Valle Lindo and outside Valle Lindo, which does not have bus stop sign, according to parents.

They also allege one bus driver uses group discipline for individuals who are acting up, one father said, recalling his child was left on the bus an extra five minutes on a day when the outdoor temperature reached 100 degrees.

Other parents noted their children have told them a driver abruptly applies his brakes to warn children against bad behavior. Children with disabilities have been dropped at the wrong place and had to walk from Sager Middle School in College Place to Valle Lindo housing off Highway 11, parents told Garcia.

Approaching Davis administrators has not solved the problem, and some of their kids are afraid to ride the bus any longer, they added.


Special education

Parents said the district only recently began sending home information in Spanish about special education, including student education plans.

“We keep signing things even though we don’t understand them,” one mother told the group, adding that her 7-year-old son with Down syndrome is not allowed to stay in school the full day and is being kept in a preschool classroom much of the time.

She feels discrimination may be a factor, the mom said.

A second mother recalled a day last winter her son with Down syndrome was allowed to go to recess by himself, then wandered away from the school. Although police were called to assist in finding him, she was called only when the 10-year-old was back at school, she said.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers health, social services and city government in Milton-Freewater, Athena and Weston in the Walla Walla Valley.