Graciela is a parent at the Caldwell School District. Two of her daughters have attended Caldwell High School and she has two younger children in the same district.
As Graciela shared, her daughters have faced a lot of obstacles at Caldwell High School, including being targeted by gang dress codes, being searched in school, and not being supported in what feels like a “correctional” environment. Despite these obstacles, Graciela continues to advocate for her children and hopes that changes at the administrative level and more parent involvement will lead to better support for Latino students.
Graciela works at a nonprofit helping community members who need job support, including people with disabilities, people recently released from incarceration, and people who have faced domestic abuse.
*The following interview has been edited for clarity. This story includes a pseudonym for anonymity purposes.
Have your daughters been targeted by gang dress codes in Caldwell?
In January 2023, after Martin Luther King Day, my daughter participated in the Brown Pride rally at Caldwell High School. After the rally she was not allowed to go back into the school, even though she was not wearing “Brown Pride” clothing. She was wearing a shirt that said, “Brown and Proud.” So that was a difficult experience for us.
The school’s dress policy is whatever the police department decides is gang related. The police have the ability to tweak it as they go. So, if today they decide that Nike is gang-related, then Caldwell School District can enforce that the next day. That is my understanding of the policy. So, I could not say anything to the district when they did not allow my daughter to go back into the school. I was expecting a phone call from the school telling me what had happened, but they never called.
My daughter has also told me about other Latino students receiving dress code violations. But I don’t think they have accused my daughters more because they know I won’t allow it. I am scared for my son because he dresses like his dad, and his dad dresses like what the police label as gang member. So, I can see my son in a few years getting into a lot of trouble, not because he’s a bad kid, but because of the way he looks and dresses. The only thing that might stop him from being disciplined is that he has lighter skin, and it shouldn’t be that way, but the deeper the color of your skin, the worse students are targeted and reprimanded. It’s a sad situation, but I have seen Mexican students are more likely to get in trouble if they are brown.
Has your child faced any obstacles in their school in Caldwell?
The last semester before her graduation, I get a phone call from my daughter, and she is crying and trying to tell me “Mom, I’m not going to graduate.” I asked her, “what do you mean you’re not going to graduate? You’ve been leaving early because supposedly you were up to date with all your credits.” So, I went straight to the school and asked to speak to the counselor. The counselor was refusing to talk to me, but I ultimately talked to her. The counselor said there was an oversight, and that my daughter did not get the credits she needed to graduate. The counselor then told me my daughter would have to take three additional classes to graduate. I asked the counselor to stop speaking to my daughter alone. I wanted to be present whenever anyone talked to her. Now my daughter has been having to stay all day, which has caused extra stress for her and her learning.
My daughter is now having to petition for her classes because she has missed so many days. And it has a lot to do with the fact that she hates being there. It is stressful for her being in what seems like a correctional facility, running around on pins and needles. Teenagers need to be genuinely cared for and have adults who care about them, not adults who are just going to nit and pick everything that they do, and only the bad things. I never get a call about how my daughter did a good job because she is improving her grades.
Have your daughters felt surveilled in their school?
My daughter told me that she was searched in school. My daughter was in the girl’s bathroom and the “vape alarms” were set off. The Dean of Students came and searched them, asked them to empty out their pockets and searched their backpacks, alleging she had “probable cause” to search. I called the school and told them how ridiculous it was for the school to invest in vape detectors, instead of positive reinforcement for the students. I told them they were pushing the negative, and never the positive for the students. They are reprimanding them as if they were running a correctional facility. And they are not investing in new books or teachers who actually care about the students.
They are disrupting their education. When my daughter could have been in class, she was being searched and the school did not find anything on her. I also did not receive a phone call about this incident. I don’t think I would have received a phone call even if she had gotten in trouble.
Have your daughters experienced discrimination?
As part of my daughter’s graduation requirement, she has to volunteer a certain number of hours. She and her friend chose to volunteer at the polls. It was a really long shift, and she was not allowed to have her phone on her. By the time I picked her up, she was crying because of what she experienced that day.
An older Caucasian man told her “What are you doing here? This is why we are voting for Trump to get people like you out of here.” Another man told her she shouldn’t even be at the polls because she wasn’t even allowed to be in the United States. They belittled them and the person in charge of the polls did not even care if they had eaten during their 12-hour shift. That day, my daughter told me “I don’t want to live in this world if this is what the world is about.” So, I had to explain to her that God works in mysterious ways and maybe this was God’s way of showing you that you need to do something with your life to help stop some of the things you went through today.
In our culture, Mexican culture, we raise our kids to respect their elders. We raise them to be strong, polite, and have a good work ethic. But we never really think to raise them for a situation like this. How do you raise them to respond back to discrimination? I have lived in Idaho all my life and I have experienced racism growing up, but I never thought I would have to raise my children to respond to these things.
What support do you think Latinx students need in Caldwell?
There is a high percentage of Latinos and poverty in the Caldwell School District. So, the district should have more care for our students. These kids are going through so much on a daily basis. This should be their safe haven, not another bad place in addition to what they may be going through at home. And that is not something you see at Caldwell High. It makes me so mad and so sad, especially because we, as parents, have the power to change things, but it’s probably going to take a very long time until we unite and are able to do something.
But we need a different environment for our kids. This way kids would not be looking for gangs to join because they have nothing else. Maybe their parents are drug addicts or were born into gang life, and that’s all they know. But that doesn’t mean that they are bad kids. They just need to be exposed to other things so that they can have a better future.
And I think to do that our schools need different leadership. At Caldwell High School they are trying to keep gangs away from the school. So, the school tries to classify kids as gang related to kick them out. That is their priority. But at Canyon Springs they know they have kids who are past gang members, are on probation, or are young parents, and they accept that. They don’t judge students by the color of their skin.
Caldwell School District also needs a counselor who understands the culture and a liaison to advocate for the Latino parents and students. There are migrant liaisons, but there isn’t a lot of migrant work anymore, so a lot of people don’t qualify for those programs. It would be awesome to have an advocate for us at every school.
What is something you wish more people knew about the Latino community?
I would want more people to know that the Latino community has roots very much connected to our culture. And we are very proud of our culture and resilient. If they give our students a chance, the sky is the limit. The missing piece is that support, they want to do better, succeed, and make their parents proud. Unfortunately, our students don’t come from parents that are wealthy. But we have engineers, and doctors, and nurses, and therapists in our Caldwell School District, but there’s not enough people to give our students that opportunity. They have so much potential, and they don’t receive support because of the color of their skin.
I wish I would have been able to finish school. My kids tell me all the time if I had been a teacher, I would have made a principal and I could have made a difference in so many kids’ lives. I know with my love and passion I would have been an amazing teacher. Unfortunately, things didn’t happen that way. But I wish Latino students who are getting ready to graduate now would consider becoming educators and working in admin to change things.
The Education Equity for Latinx Students project started in the fall of 2022 as part of our efforts to expand racial justice work on behalf of Idaho students, beginning with Latinx communities.