I learned this week that the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp this fall commemorating a 1947 federal court case that gave Mexican-American children in some California school districts the right to attend regular public schools rather than segregated schools. The court case was a precursor to the Brown v. Board of Education ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954, which mandated the integration of U.S. schools.
Peter Zamora, the regional counsel for the Washington office of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who seems to appear on panels everywhere these days, mentioned this bit of news at the U.S. Department of Education’s summit on ELLs this week. He noted that the federal court case, Mendez v. Westminster School District, commemorated by the stamp usually doesn’t get much attention.
My editors here at Education Week knew about Mendez v. Westminster because when the newspaper profiled 100 people who had been important to education in the 20th century at the end of that century (yes, I’ve been working here that long), I was asked to write about Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez, who were plaintiffs in the case. I learned how the farming couple fought for their children to get a solid education regardless of their Mexican heritage. I wrote about the case a second time for an article in 2004 about how the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education was eventually applied to Latino children.
I was struck by how the Westminster school district officials had argued that they segregated Latino children because of language issues, but the judge pointed out that the school district didn’t even test children on their language ability.
It seems to me that the Mendez parents provide an early example in the history of this country of “parental involvement” in education by Latinos.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.