Special Reports

Parents air concerns at FUSD town hall

More than 100 parents showed up for a town hall meeting Thursday night at St. Anthony Mary Claret church in southeast Fresno to voice concerns with Fresno Unified School District.

A number of parents who spoke raised concerns about dropout rates, truancies, drugs at school and inadequate programs for English learners in the Roosevelt High School area.

It was the second in a series of town hall meetings organized by a group called Reform Fresno Unified to address issues with the school district. Last month, more than 500 people filled Bullard High School's cafeteria to raise concerns about overcrowding, school discipline, student uniforms and lack of gifted and talented programs.

Esmeralda Diaz, a parent and meeting organizer, said she didn't want to fight with the district, but instead wants to work together to help English-language learners in southeast Fresno.

According to Diaz, in 2010-11 nearly a quarter of the district's 74,831 students were English learners, and only about 9% of those -- 1,816 students -- were considered proficient in English and redesignated into normal class schedules.

Diaz, who ran unsuccessfully last fall for the Roosevelt High-area trustee seat, said English-learning students are at a disadvantage compared to regular students because they lose out on academic opportunities like Advanced Placement classes.

A number of other parents who spoke echoed her concerns.

School board members Luis Chavez -- who represents the Roosevelt High area -- Michelle Asadoorian and Christopher De La Cerda attended Thursday's meeting but did not speak. A district official told parents that district representatives were there to listen to their concerns.

Among the speakers Thursday was Mark Arax, Asadoorian's brother, who recounted the story of Lidia Ruiz and her 17-year-old son, who was murdered while truant from Sunnyside High School in March 2011. A student in Arax's Fresno State journalism class wrote a series of stories about Ruiz's son, Junior Villarreal, and truancy in Fresno Unified schools that was published in The Bee.

Arax and Ruiz, who also spoke, said the district fails to notify parents when their children are truant, putting those students at greater risk of dropping out and getting into trouble with the law -- or worse.