A letter from San Rafael Elementary School parents was sent to Mayor Victor Gordo, PUSD Superintendent Brian McDonald, Ed. D., and PUSD School Board Members.
By News Desk
The letter, in support of the school’s head custodian and the principal, was sent on Wednesday afternoon, August 24, with 358 signatures. It had 374 signatures as of 9:34 pm:
Dear Mayor Gordo, Dr. McDonald and Members of the Pasadena Unified School Board:
We are current and former parents of children who attend or attended San Rafael Elementary School writing in support of our head custodian and our Principal, Rudy Ramirez. We have been following the myriad discussions in the public sphere about the troubling interaction that took place on Sunday, August 14th between our head custodian and the Pasadena Police Department, as well as the aftermath of that incident. As individuals who are an integral part of the school community and have been (and will continue to be) profoundly impacted by these events, we ask that you heed our voices surrounding the recent incident that has unfolded in our community.
We believe that our school community is a microcosm of the conversations around police-community relations and racial tensions in our country that are playing out on the national stage. These are complex issues that require complex solutions. However, the manner in which the media and the City of Pasadena has responded to this situation is shameful and simplistic. While there are two conversations that need to happen—one about the disturbing police interaction with our head custodian and the other about Mr. Ramirez’s inappropriate comments—they are inextricably interrelated. Furthermore, the mayor’s statement did not even mention the custodian, nor the struggle of a progressive public school in an exclusive white neighborhood. Regrettably, but not surprisingly, Mr. Ramirez’s comments are being used as a distraction from the central issue at hand, namely that the police racially profiled our head custodian and did not have a basis for treating him so harshly. The actions taken by the Pasadena Police Department were excessive and inappropriate. Our custodian was compliant, wore his uniform, had keys to the school, and identification and he did not match the description of the suspected burglar given by the 911 caller. Under these circumstances, there appears to be no justification for him to be handcuffed and held at rifle point regardless of whether armed lethal or non-lethal rounds.
Lack of nuanced judgment
Our mayor stated “in the context of what has happened recently in schools across the country, it is appropriate for our officers to respond to all concerns involving our schools and school children.” Because there were no children present on a Sunday, use of the word “children” is misleading and frankly, fear mongering. We are not challenging the fact that there was a response; we are challenging the intent of the phone call and the actions of our police officers. Although we recognize the need for vigilance and prompt response, this reactionary way of handling the phone call is not only ineffective, but damaging to our community. The lack of nuanced judgment once they arrived and failure to accurately assess the situation resulted in unnecessary and excessive force. Rather than rely on these ineffective, reactionary policies and justifications, we need to focus on improved training and protocols, as well as proactive healing that includes our children, our families, our beloved principal and staff, our neighbors, and the city of Pasadena. This is actually something with which the City and the district can help our community.
Misleading release of tangential video of Principal
When asked to release video footage of our head custodian, the police department instead, maliciously released a tangential video of Principal Ramirez having, what he thought was a private conversation with another district (contract) employee after the police action had concluded. While the statements made were hurtful, his experiences have been shaped by past negative encounters and events between our school and a few disgruntled neighbors, as well as his own negative experiences with police, all during a time where conversations and tensions are high around police brutality and anti-racism. In other words, what we witnessed on that recording was an exhibition of Mr. Ramirez’s own trauma and our collective wounds. This does not excuse his words, but it provides critical context for them. Mr. Ramirez is reacting to the injustice in our community from which now the discussion has, unfortunately, shifted. And it is troubling to have his emotional words exposed without his consent and without the necessary context to explain his experience in that moment.
Police Department has yet to publicly apologize to our beloved custodian
Mr. Ramirez quickly sought to make amends. We understand that he reached out to the family about which some of his comments were made, and apologized. This personal apology was swiftly followed by a public apology to the community and the impacted family. The focus has now shifted to Principal Ramirez, while the Police Department has yet to publicly apologize to our beloved custodian, who feared for his life that day. The focus has shifted from the neighbor who may have made a false statement with bad intentions. And the City and the press have shamefully played into this. We would like to reiterate and emphasize that our beloved custodian truly feared for his life in that moment. This doesn’t seem to have sunk in with those who are moving away from this central issue. The refusal to admit they should have handled the situation differently, and the fact that they dismiss the post-traumatic impacts this has on human life only perpetuates the fear people have of the police. Microaggressions were a catalyst to these events and they continue in statements made by the City and press. This strategic avoidance is an attempt to control the narrative and we cannot allow this.
Disappointed in City leadership
We are profoundly disappointed that our City leadership justified the actions made by the Pasadena Police Department while discrediting our beloved Principal Ramirez who acted out of concern for his employee. It was an opportunity for Mayor Gordo and the City to promote empathy, community, closure, and leadership, but instead used it as a political opportunity without having full context. Regardless of race, we can see that Mr. Ramirez acted out of concern. One emotional act should not discredit the years of hard work for our school. A recent principal of the year, Mr. Ramirez is one of the most dedicated and supportive principals who works long hours, knows the families and all children by name, even years after they leave, and stands up for his staff. He is loved by our children, and they would be heartbroken without his presence. We support our Principal because we have empathy for his own experiences and we have witnessed his years of tireless work and commitment to our children. He is human and fallible, as we all are. This mistake should not cost him his job, reassignment, or cause the City or community to avoid grappling with the difficult issues that our custodian’s detention raises.
Principal Ramirez is the heart of our school community
We understand that a small group of parents is requesting Mr. Ramirez be removed from his position. Doing so would add another layer of tragedy to an already tragic situation of which the timing could not be worse given the start of the new school year. Without Mr. Ramirez, San Rafael will lose its spark. The dedication and work he has put into the school and making it one of the best in Pasadena is why it is in such great demand. We urge you not to let a momentary lapse in judgment be the end of a lifelong commitment to public education. Principal Ramirez is the heart of our school community and without him we know the school will falter and you will lose countless parents to private education and families without the economic means that are left behind will suffer even greater consequences and losses. We understand that should Mr. Ramirez leave, some of our incredible teachers will also seek to find new positions. Moreover, claims that Mr. Ramirez somehow poses a risk to the students of San Rafael are at best grossly misplaced and derogatory given his demonstrated love and devotion to the school and community.
It is difficult to understate Mr. Ramirez’s impact on our community, but suffice it to say that he is essential in our community and we do not want to see him removed. We urge you not to let a few loud voices dictate your decision and, instead, work with the school community on providing healing and closure. You are all uniquely positioned to do this and to help us all learn from this unfortunate experience. Please take a moment and listen to the community, parents, and most importantly, the children who adore both Mr. Ramirez and our custodian.
The Board of Education will hold its regular meeting on Thursday, August 25 at 4:00 pm. You can watch it live on KLRN or at this link.
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