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The Santee School District offered to pay a woman to drive her children to another school district after she complained about racial harassment at Cajon Park Elementary School.
Shelly Monroe, who’s black, said her four children experienced 15 to 16 incidents since enrolling at the school in 2014. The incidents, she said, included schoolmates name-calling, following and throwing oranges at her children. She also said a student told her daughter she was black and didn’t belong in the classroom.
Monroe’s complaints were first reported by NBC 7 San Diego.
And a teacher made matters worse just a couple months ago, Monroe said.
“I’ve had the teacher single my daughter out in Black History Month and let her know that she was black and the other kids were white, and she should be happy that’s she’s here,” she told NBC. That experience was enough to make her daughter come home from school crying and humiliated, she said.
Monroe said her vehicle was vandalized in the school’s parking lot in March when someone wrote a racial slur on the window.
Around then, she submitted a harassment complaint – and said she wanted the district to pay to bus her children to a school in San Diego.
At first, the district told her there were no available funds to meet her demand, she said.
“But once it started to go on the news, the district offered to give me a check every month,” she said, “about $650 a month.”
Monroe gave Voice of San Diego a copy of the district’s agreement. (We’ve redacted the names of Monroe’s minor children at her request.) And while the agreement doesn’t propose an exact amount of money – nor an offer to bus her children outside the district, as she requested in the complaint – it’s an offer for monthly mileage-calculated compensation if Monroe agrees to commute her four children from Santee to San Diego and withdraw her complaints against the district.
In the agreement, the district neither admits wrongdoing nor acknowledges the reason it’s offering the funds to Monroe.
Santee Superintendent Cathy Pierce and Barbara Ryan, president of the Santee Board of Education, told Voice of San Diego the issue was confidential.
But in an emailed statement, Pierce wrote: “We care about all children, and we want them to feel safe at school. To that end, we currently have a variety of programs in place to promote acceptance, inclusion and kindness.”
Monroe hasn’t signed the agreement yet because she says it doesn’t feel like justice.
During the year and a half Monroe’s children attended Cajon Park Elementary, she said she met with school administration, the superintendent and the board of education to determine if there was a way to stop racial harassment at the school.
“I suggested trainings. I asked, ‘Have you had any bullying courses? Set up seminars?’ They just kept telling me they were working on it,” Monroe said. “They said, “We’re going to fix it.’”
The Santee School District’s Parent Handbook includes a section dedicated to bullying prevention:
To prevent conflict, each school will incorporate conflict resolution education and problem solving techniques into the curriculum and campus programs. This is an important step in promoting respect and acceptance, developing new ways of communicating, understanding, and accepting differing values and cultures within the school community and helps ensure a safe and healthy learning environment
Despite the district’s policy, Monroe said other parents told her their children also experienced similar harassment at the school – but the other parents didn’t issue a complaint, she said.
Since first receiving the district’s agreement and debating its implications, Monroe said she initially pulled her children from school to protect them from further bullying. They remained enrolled at Cajon Park during that time but stayed at home, with Monroe shuttling back and forth between the school and home to pick up daily assignments and dropping off completed ones.
She said she never received graded assignments, progress reports or calls from the school or district concerning her children’s attendance.
Monroe decided to temporarily enroll her children at a school in El Cajon while she decides what to do next.
Monroe’s experiences speak to a larger regional issue, said one advocate.
Estela De Los Rios, executive director of the Center for Social Advocacy San Diego County, has a long history combatting hate crimes and incidents in East County. She chaired United for a Hate Free San Diego, a coalition of community and religious leaders that hosted a series of hate crime summits.
“East County, including Santee, is always in reports about hate crimes,” De Los Rios said. “Generally, those groups are dangerous, they operate as gangs.”
She says she experienced death threats and an office break-in at her East County office after advocating against hate crimes.
Monroe remembers hearing rumors about racism in Santee as far back as when she was 16 years old. That was in 1999. People referred to the region – and still do – by the perpetual moniker, Klantee.
But a few years ago, Monroe, a single mother, found a Santee home large and affordable enough for her family. She said she looked forward to stability for her children – even though family and friends warned her against the move. They were concerned, she said, about how she might be treated in the region.
But Monroe was optimistic and figured her children would be safe, she said.
In light of Monroe’s recent experiences, De Los Rios said, “I’m very proud of this woman who courageously told her story. We have such a growing, diverse community, and people need to engage in the conversation.”
Mario Koran contributed to this story.