Larry Oshodi
Valencia High School Teacher
Ed Redd
Santa Clarita Parks Commissioner

Interview by Leon Worden
Signal Multimedia Editor

Sunday, May 29, 2005
(Television interview conducted May 26, 2005)

Larry Oshodi
Larry Oshodi
    "Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and hosted by Signal Multimedia Editor Leon Worden. The program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
    This week's newsmakers are Larry Oshodi, a teacher at Valencia High School, and Ed Redd, a member of the city of Santa Clarita Parks, Recreation and Community Services Commission. The interview was conducted May 26. Questions are paraphrased and some answers may be abbreviated for length.

Signal: The William S. Hart Union High School District was hit with a federal lawsuit May 19, alleging it failed to respond appropriately to racial incidents at Valencia High School. Several board members were individually named, as were Superintendent Bob Lee and Valencia Principal Paul Priesz. What prompted you to come forward and speak out?

Redd: We basically wanted to come out and clarify and give information about the (press conference) that occurred (Wednesday), which was to bring out community people, African American people (and) school people, who can actually give us a different view of what's happening in the school, what's happening with the kids and the racism issue. We wanted to know something, and we thought the public needed to know a different side of what's going on in the school.

Signal: Larry, you work for Paul Priesz. What did you think when you learned about the lawsuit?

Oshodi: Well, that was hard when I learned that there was a lawsuit, especially in the area of racism. Because looking at my own personal experiences in the 13 years that I've lived in the Santa Clarita Valley with my family, my personal experiences do not in any way reflect what has been said.
    Also, my personal experience — as a teacher at Valencia High School; with children, my own children, who go to school and graduated from school — does not reflect that. So what I'm about, and what I'm here for, is to tell my own story.

Ed Redd
Ed Redd

Signal: Parents. Students. Teachers. It seems that everybody is rallying around Paul Priesz. Is this genuine? Is this how faculty feels? Do you believe this is how students feel about him?

Oshodi: I do believe so. And some other things that we did not see on the video (of the press conference), and thankfully so, are the tears (of) our faculty members and parents — and I'll leave it at that — like one of our speakers ... with her voice shaking. A lot of people just wanting to cry out of pain because of this matter, because of their love for the school, for the students and for Dr. Priesz, and because of the genuineness of this matter.

Signal: At the heart of the lawsuit is the idea that black students at Valencia High have been "subjected to the most despicable of racial epithets, comments, graffiti, symbols, gestures, physical assaults and acts of intimidation," and that the school district has failed to address these things adequately. Do you find that kids on campus are called the N-word? Are kids intimidated by white supremacists?

Oshodi: As district staff, and since the district (is) part of this lawsuit, I cannot comment on anything to do with the lawsuit.
    I can tell you my experience ... and those of my children, my own children who go to the school, and other people that I know, is that of just a place that is welcoming to everybody, not just African Americans. We have a sizable group of Arab Americans, of Asian Americans, of Latino Americans, and in a community of this size there will be people — it is just a statistical fact — that there will be people who will display behavior that are racist or illegal in one way or the other. And what I also personally know is, again, like the young man who said ... about his experience in tenth grade — I know that when these issues are brought up, they are dealt with. They are not shied away from, they are not pushed under the carpet, from my own personal experience.
    Now, I do not want to tell you, or anyone here, that oh, no, Valencia High School is Mayberry. Because whatever we have in Valencia High School, we got from the Santa Clarita Valley.

Signal: The focus has been on the school. Is this a school problem, or do you see problems of racism in other areas?

Redd: This is a national problem. It's not just happening here in Santa Clarita. We have problems all over the United States. And I'm sure school districts are dealing with similar problems. But when we decided to put this (press conference) together, we found that people needed to talk about this and they needed answers. And we weren't getting any answers from anyone, because we don't know what some of the plaintiffs are saying. We didn't get a chance to see what the complaint read. We just wanted to let people tell their side of the story, because we found that people were very concerned. They weren't getting information from the schools, because the schools legally cannot talk too much about it. So we said, let's get the people who care about the schools, who (are) concerned about what's going on, and let them speak and see what they have on their minds.

Signal: Paul Priesz didn't participate in Wednesday's press conference, and we've heard that since he's named in the lawsuit, his attorney advised him not to be interviewed at this time. Is the lawsuit is hamstringing the district's ability to talk about racism and address the problem?

Press Conference
Valencia High School teacher Kim Forbes faces the television cameras Wednesday. Photo by Bryan Kneiding/The Signal

    The following is a representative sampling from Wednesday's press conference at Valencia High School. The press event was organized by local resident Bill Watford and city Parks Commissioner Ed Redd. Neither is employed by the William S. Hart Union High School District.

Ron Shipp, parent: I'm very happy that my son had a chance to come to Valencia High School mainly because of Paul Priesz, who I met back in 1991 when he was a vice principal at Canyon (High School). Paul Priesz is one of the greatest guys I've ever met. He's a loving man. My son has been gone from this school for two years now, but for two years I still come back here. I come back here for all the activities, I come back here to be with the faculty, I come back here to go out to dinner. This has been a great experience for me.

Kim Forbes, Valencia teacher: Not only am I an educator at Valencia High School; not only am I fan of Paul Priesz — because he hired me and I'm good; not only am I homeowner in Santa Clarita; I am raising two young children purposefully in Santa Clarita so that they go through this school district. Now, let's think about this for a moment. I have been an educator for 13 years. If there is anyone who understands where the skeletons are buried in the educational system, I know it. I know what to look for. I know what to stay away from. I came running to Santa Clarita.

Bill Watford, parent: This school is the most diverse school. It's a poster child for diversity here in this community. It has the only black head coach in any sport. It has the only Black Student Union. It has the only black-led Bible study. It has the most diverse faculty in the whole valley. So I'm a little bit confused (by the lawsuit).

Maria Aguilar, Hart district educator: The first week when Valencia started — I'm a little emotional about all of this — Dr. Priesz approached me he said, "Mrs. Aguilar, I know that you work with students. I know that I want something in the school that will help all the students to learn about every race. Do you think you can help me with that?" I said, "Yes, Dr. Priesz. If you give me the students, I will help you." He went around campus asking everybody if they wanted to be in our group. It was the first week of school. And he said, "Yes, I have five students for you." I met with those five girls. They were five Latina girls. I met with them and I told them, "Let's start something at school. Something where we can learn about every race. Something we can do — community work. Something that the community can know that Latinos, blacks, Asians, whites, anybody that wants to be in our group, that we can help the community, that we can do something, that we belong at Valencia High School." They said yes, let's do it. That was the first year. My group was in Valencia High School for five years. We had 75 students when I left Valencia High School. I'm working at Canyon High School now.

Maria Llamas, Valencia graduate: If it wasn't for this community and Valencia High School, I don't think I would be at such a high level — I am now graduating (college) — and the support of community, I'm very blessed to (have graduated) from Valencia High School, still living in Santa Clarita Valley.

Gloria Locke, parent: Parents, I've got to talk to you right now. It starts at home — you and me. We've got to teach our kids what is right. Would you guys call that (the N-word) to anybody else? Of course not. That's what we have to teach our kids.

Johnathan Bailey, Valencia student: I have known white supremacists here when I was like in tenth grade. And if it wasn't for Dr. Priesz, I wouldn't be here right now. ... I went home and told my mom what happened with the incident with the white kids, and the next day Dr. Priesz expelled all those kids because they admitted that they called me the N-word. And ever since then, everything's been good.

Redd: I don't see that as being the case. I think the district is doing what it can do to address this problem. We have the (Hart district's) Ad-hoc Committee that's meeting and they're trying to find programs, solutions, to deal with the problem. I think the district right now is doing what they can do to address this.

Signal: To rephrase the question, many people have said communication is the key to overcoming racism. If the lawsuit has effectively gagged everyone at the school district, do believe the lawsuit has inhibited their ability to communicate as effectively?

Reed: Sure. Exactly. I think that's true. I think people would like it — especially the district — I think that the administrators would like to talk, would like to say more; they would like to give us some of the facts that (we) are not hearing, but they can't. Their hands are tied through this lawsuit.

Oshodi: There are two elements of that, actually, from the law: No. 1, student confidentiality laws. With or without a lawsuit, you can't just say anything about it, and people will say, "Why aren't you providing information?" Well, state law. Can't do it. Then on top of that, (it's) a pending lawsuit, so it even restricts what can be said about this matter.

Signal: Larry, you wanted to tell your personal story. Go for it.

Oshodi: My personal experience has been wonderful. I love this valley. I love this community. I have not had any opportunity to regret, ever, moving to this valley, bringing my family to this valley.
    I know that this valley has got people who are the minority. I might have dark skin; I believe I'm not a minority in this valley. The minority in this valley are the people who hate.
    Thankfully, there's just a small percentage of them. And thankfully, the majority of the residents of this valley are wonderful people, caring people. The people I meet, the people I interact with in every area — (at the) grocery store and church and everywhere I go, and especially at my job, Valencia High School — they are wonderful people, and that is why I'm still here.
    I'm not held (down) by any chains here. I just, like a lot of us, moved into this valley — some in the last couple years, some in the last 20 years — we moved here for a reason: because we left something behind. Many left situations behind that they did not find conducive to raising a family, so we're here now. And I just love this experience and I love Valencia High School.

Signal: How long have you been at Valencia?

Oshodi: Eight years.

Signal: Was that your first school in the Hart district?

Oshodi: I was at La Mesa Junior High School very briefly before coming to Valencia High School.

Signal: The lawsuit paints quite a different picture. One plaintiff, a girl, alleges that she "does not openly socialize with white students while outdoors" and that black students "are relegated to specific portions of the campus." After Wednesday's press conference we turned the TV cameras on the quad during lunchtime, but we couldn't find the black area and the white area.

Oshodi: Again, I can't comment on that, if that's in the lawsuit. What I can tell you —

Signal: OK, forget the lawsuit. Where's the black area and the white area?

Oshodi: When I walk around on campus, going from one classroom to another at lunch time, trying to get some food, what I see is a group of young students just being teenagers — just walking around, playing together.
    Now, do you see five or six black students talking together, hanging out? Sure. Do you see 10 or 12 white students talking together? That's inevitable. Do you see five, six Asian students talking together? Sure. But then, do you see three black students and three white students? Yes. Do you see an Asian boy and an Hispanic girl holding hands, boyfriend and girlfriend? Every time.

Signal: When you're out there at lunch time, do you hear them using the N-word?

Oshodi: I, personally, no.

Signal: At the press conference, it was mentioned that some kids use the N-word in ways that aren't meant to be hurtful.

Redd: I can speak to that. When this all began — as an African American father, I became concerned. The first thing I did was go and talk to my daughter, who was a student at Canyon High School. And I asked her, "Have you heard this word being used? And do you feel intimidated by it?" She looked at me and (said), "Oh, dad," and she started laughing. She said, "Everybody uses that word. Everybody calls each other that word. It's no big deal."
    It kind of threw me for a loop. And I said OK, that's their opinion — and I trust my daughter's opinion; she's pretty smart — so I talked to a friend of mine's son, who had just graduated from Canyon High. And he said, "Yeah," he said, "everybody calls everybody that word."
    So what does that mean? It means that the kids today are taking something that was hurtful and harmful and turning it into something that is not as hurtful and not as harmful and is now used as a cool thing to say to each other, and it's sometimes even endearing.
    Well, in the past, if you said that to someone, it would be very, very insulting. So we've seen a change, maybe a cultural change, where these kids today are trying to change this, to make a harmful word not as harmful as it used to be.

Signal: Do you think there might be teenagers who are the same age but from different backgrounds who might hear that word and perceive it differently?

Redd: Certainly. I think this cultural change, within this generation of kids, is changing rapidly. And I think there's a lot of kids who are still offended and very sensitive to that word, and they take it in a different way than the kids today are taking it, or the kids in this generation are taking it.
    I think a kid who may be on a campus who hears this word, may be offended by it. And then there are other kids who are playing with this word and making it more of an endearing kind of thing. And so it is sensitivities we have to be concerned with.
    I'm not sure if this lawsuit has anything to do with that, being called this word, if this word is being used on a regular basis; it could be. I don't know if this is part of it. But this is a change that we're seeing now, with the use of this word.

Oshodi: I think as far as reporters are concerned — I think we need to be very careful how we go about talking to students, because it came out of the press conference (Wednesday).
    From an educator's point of view, one of the things — and this is a great analogy — one of the things we had to deal with in education is the Internet. In the old days, when you and I were in school, you'd give an assignment: Go write a report on the JFK presidency. And as a student, you'd have to go into the library and do it the hard way. You'd have to study encyclopedias and newsmagazines and do everything. Any educator who assigns such a project today is not serious. Because any student will go online and print out 1,000 essays on the life of JFK. So we've had to adjust to how we do things in education because of changes.
    What I would suggest is when reporters go out, when you put a microphone in front of a teenager and say, "Have you ever heard the N-word? Do you use the N-word?" You need to — you cannot ask that anymore, based on what's been said now, that yes, due to popular culture, teenagers now use that.
    In my household, it's not acceptable, just like it (isn't) in a lot of households. But then they hear it on television, they hear it on CDs, the music and everything that they listen to. So when we speak to teenagers, we need to do it a little bit more intelligently, to find out if — when you say you hear it, is it just amongst your group of friends, the three or four friends (who) say it to each other endearingly? Or do you hear it in the nasty, vicious way that we of this generation know about?

Signal: Larry, you said you don't hear kids using the word on campus. But what if you did? What action would you take, and is your action predicated on your determination of intent?

Oshodi: Well, I'm going to be hypothetical now. If I hear that, what I'll do is take the student and go into the office and I will hand over the student to the assistant principal. I don't know exactly what the district rules and school rules and state law (are) on that, but I know that there is a specific procedure that has to be taken and investigated, and meting out the appropriate consequences for that. As a teacher working on campus, what I'll do is take that student — just like if I see a student swing at another student, or any behavior that is not the right one — I will escort them to the office.

Signal: You know what your responsibility is in that situation.

Oshodi: Yes. I will take them to the office, and I am sure they will then take it on and do the necessary investigation and mete out the appropriate consequence.

Signal: Our comprehensive high schools draw a diverse group of students — not just racially, but economically, as well. At Valencia you have kids from higher-income areas like Valencia-Bridgeport and kids from places where median family incomes aren't as high, like Val Verde and parts of Castaic. Is race is the right question? Or is it a matter of class status?

Redd: I think class might have something to do with it. For example, we know that the income for kids in Valencia is a higher income level, right? We also know that drug use in this community is very high, because kids in this community can afford to purchase drugs. We also know that kids from other areas come to this area to purchase drugs because there's a lot of it here. So in that respect, it could be class.
    But how does that relate to cultural diversity? I'm not sure. Maybe kids today are a little bit more loose, a little bit more Internet-savvy than kids maybe in South Central or maybe some other areas. But I'm not sure how much class has to do with it, what income level has to do with diversity.

Signal: We've been focusing on race, but are there kids who might be ostracized because they're not in the "in" crowd; they're not on the football team and they aren't the black homecoming queen? Or perhaps their income or wealth might cause them to be teased or taunted or bullied? If you see bullying or ostracism among kids, Larry, do you see it as a function of race, or other things? Or maybe multiple things?

Oshodi: This is a very, very important question, and I truly mean it. ... I appreciate you asking that question. Because what it tells me is, we need to look at the true reason behind an act.
    When something happens, what is the reason? Is it race? Is it, like you said, class? Is it something else? Is it because I'm not a popular kid, I'm not in this group or club? And that is the most important thing we need to do as a school, indeed as a society.
    When two people get into an argument, when we have a disagreement between us — right now, in this climate, in this environment, it is just two men (indicating Redd) disagreeing and fighting. When you (indicating Worden) and I have a disagreement, it's racial. (But) is it? Can't we just have a disagreement? Can't we just have a clean old fight without it being racially motivated?
    But it also can be racially motivated. So we need to look at all aspects of an event. When you see two boys on campus yelling at each other and everything, OK, so you step in and you go, "What's going on?" And they give you their stories. And you turn around and find out actually it's because of a girl in the middle. It's a love triangle. Now, if the two of them belong to the same race, background, not a big deal. Let's deal with the love triangle. Now, if the two of them belong to different backgrounds, now all of a sudden there's a racial issue involved.
    We need to go beyond that. And those are the questions we need to ask. Is this a racially motivated event? Is this just a love triangle? Is class involved? Is this because this child is trying to get into this group and they are not letting him? And these are the real issues. These are the questions that we need to be asking, and not automatically jump in at, "Oh. It's class. It's race." It's just this or that.

Signal: What do you want parents to do?

Redd: We want parents to stay involved with their kids. We want parents to let them understand, teach them what diversity is, and promote that and encourage that. We want parents to understand that working together with the schools, with other parents, with the city, to solve problems like this, is the best way to go.
    And I think we missed that opportunity to bring in everybody, and everybody participating in this process, participating in the Ad-hoc Committee. I think we're missing more people and more involvement by the public, and we need to promote that more.

Oshodi: I want to first of all let all parents know, regardless of their background, that we have a great school at Valencia High School. (We are) faced with the same challenges that every single school in America is facing, and we're dealing with it.
    And I want to invite more parents, especially minority parents, to get involved with school, not only when there is a problem like this. But get involved so that there won't be any need, so that you will know, you won't have to hear it on television or read it in the newspaper.

    See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.

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