Parents include superintendent in white gown discussion

International+Baccalaurate+%28IB%29+parent+Laura+Shimizu%2C+speaks+passionately%0Aabout+her+concerns+expanding+white+robes+during+an+IB+parent+meeting%0Awith+the+Bonita+Vista+High+principal.+These+parent+meetings+began+at+the+school+level%2C+but+has+now+reached+the+Sweetwater+Union+High+School+District+level.

Nicole Macgaffey

International Baccalaurate (IB) parent Laura Shimizu, speaks passionately about her concerns expanding white robes during an IB parent meeting with the Bonita Vista High principal. These parent meetings began at the school level, but has now reached the Sweetwater Union High School District level.

Nicole Macgaffey, Features Editor

On April 27, a committee of Bonita Vista High (BVH) International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma candidate parents and students held a meeting with Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) Superintendent Moises Aguirre, Ed.D. The meeting was regarding their discontentment with the decision BVH Principal Roman Del Rosario, Ed.D. made to expand the recognition of the white gowns. The parent meeting on April 18 revealed that Del Rosario did not plan to modify his decision which led the group of parents to shed light on why it is an issue for them to the Superintendent. 

On May 3rd, Del Rosario announced in an email to families of IB Diploma candidates and students with a 4.2 grade point average (GPA) or higher, that it was decided that BVH “will be maintaining the site decision to honor the achievement of an expanded group of students”. The criteria remained the same: “all IB Diploma Candidates (regardless of GPA), any student with a 4.2 or higher GPA at the end of their senior year fall semester and the highest achieving 4 students in our various programs for students with special needs.”

“We wanted to ensure that we gave this visibility up and through the superintendent. So that’s why we chose to escalate it,” IB Diploma candidate parent Juan Castruita. 

Castruita shared in the meeting between IB families and the Superintendent that he felt the process Del Rosario used to make the decision was “preordained”. In his perspective, Del Rosario only made the decision for this year in order to “satisfy” the parent who originally raised the complaint at the SUHSD board meeting on March 14. To Castruita, the decision was “unjust.”

“This was clearly something that was underhanded and where he gave into the peer pressure of the parents that were pushing him to expand the white robe,” Castruita said. “If you have a principal at a school that is behaving and making irrational decisions, it’s your responsibility to step in and ensure that he is making the right decisions.” 

Other points made by IB parents were that they were not against other students receiving a distinction, they just wished for an alternative method of recognition for non-IB diploma students receiving the expanded recognition. 

“One of the selling points for the program was you will graduate in white and you will be the only one who’s graduating in white. Dr. Del Rosario went against that promise by changing the policies six weeks before graduation,” Castruita said. “It wasn’t an issue of trying to exclude people. It was look, ‘give us a certain recognition that we had been promised, and then recognize these other folks in different ways’. Don’t take this IB program recognition and expand it.”

After the meeting with the IB Diploma Candidates, Aguirre tasked Del Rosario to put together a group of families of students who met the GPA requirement for the expanded white gowns. Aguirre wanted to get equal voices on the matter in order to make an informed decision on the situation at hand. 

As Superintendent, Aguirre has complete power to modify or reverse any decision a principal has made at a specific site. Advanced Placement (AP) parent Samuel Sandoval felt “upset” upon hearing the news that another meeting was being held regarding the topic and that the decision was up for reconsideration by Aguirre. 

“I felt that the decision was already made. If a decision was already made, and everybody was notified, I didn’t understand trying to go back and rehash the issue. Why go back and question?,” Sandoval said. “[IB families] had plenty of opportunities and had their meetings. [BVH administration] had their discussion with both groups and then the decision was made.” 

Sandoval thought it was “fair” of Aguirre to hear both sides of the issue. Additional points that other parents and students made were that “nothing was taken away” from the IB Diploma candidates in expanding the white robe recognition to other students. Furthermore, they added that while the IB Diploma candidates are deserving of recognition, other students who choose a pathway that was also rigorous deserve it as well.  

“They are still IB diploma candidates and still getting to graduate in white. They still got everything they wanted, they just needed to share the stage,” Sandoval said. “There’s other students that should be recognized. They have put in as much time as any other kid by taking rigorous courses and it is reflective of their GPA. This side is just an overwhelming amount of valued points that trump the fact that they were promised [being the only ones to graduate in white].” 

A solution that was posed in both meetings was that students who received the expanded distinction should graduate in a different colored robe, such as gold. Castruita agreed with the solution proposed in the meeting and stated that he was never against other students being recognized. Sandoval on the other hand did not agree with this solution. 

“That would only cause more division and separation in the [BVH] community or the student body. It would also give the message that ‘you’re not as good as an IB Diploma bound kid. Therefore, we’re giving you a different color’. We didn’t think that was the right thing to do,” Sandoval said. “We’re not battling for a white robe. We were [defending] equity.”

Sandoval believes that Aguirre listened to both sides. He added that he thinks the points made by their side were more “compelling” which helped Aguirre make the right decision. Furthermore, Sandoval is not surprised by the decision Aguirre made. 

“I am satisfied with the results because I always felt that it was the right thing to do. I always felt that there were many deserving students that were not being recognized,” Sandoval said. “But I’m sad that it has caused so much revolt and so much discourse, so much going back and forth and turmoil. I believe that these are very simple points that people should have the right to to have the recognition for after they have performed, performance should be rewarded and recognized,” Sandoval said. 

Castruita believed that the superintendent “paid [them] lip service”. Castruita thinks that the decision made was unfair and a “miscarriage of justice”. He strongly believes that Aguirre made a mistake in the final decision that he made.  

“We are not going to contest the decision any longer but we don’t accept the decision,” Castruita said. 

IB Diploma parents explored their legal options with attorney Carlos Martinez who has a daughter in the IB Diploma program. During a Zoom meeting a group of IB parents held after the meeting with Del Rosario on April 18, Martinez suggested that the parents could file an injunction to attempt to curb Del Rosario’s want to expand the recognition. 

“I saw the kids [were] emotionally distressed over this change that the principal had made without consulting anyone except the opposing parent and student,” Martinez said. 

The IB parents did file an injunction with the court and notified SUHSD that they were doing so. When IB parents filed the injunction, graduation was a month away, but SUHSD claims that they need to be given 45 days to respond. The IB parent decided to file an emergency injunction. 

“In my opinion, I don’t find the principal to be very honest, it’s misleading and untrustworthy. He lost a lot of respect and trust from the graduating class,” Martinez said.

The parent took a day to write the formal complaint, but the complaint was never served due to the 45 day time period of response from the district. The IB parents decided not to pursue the matter further since they would not get the result in the time frame they wanted. As Martinez described, IB parents felt “defeated”. 

“It just really shows me how people abuse their power. There was misconduct by the principal. It goes to someone’s moral character, moral compass have taken campus from recommend that teacher that his daughters went to the program all the other parents blindsided.”

Del Rosario was present during both meetings. He noted that after hearing both perspectives he saw the validity of both statements made on each side but still feels “at peace: with the decision he made. Ultimately, Del Rosario believes it was the right decision. 

“It was of mixed emotions. I really empathize with students and parents from all sides of the issue because a lot of the concerns that are brought up on either side are very valid,” Del Rosario said. “Personally, I’ve always believed in the parents’ will and responsibility to advocate for their children, and it’s something that I’ve always embraced.”

I’ve always believed in the parents’ will and responsibility to advocate for their children, and it’s something that I’ve always embraced.”

— BVH Principal Roman Del Rosario, Ed.D.

In the email that Del Rosario sent out he reminded students and parents that they are expected to display “positive behavior and decorum will be expected by all throughout the remainder of the year and at graduation itself”. Del Rosario’s biggest interest is ensuring that every student feels a sense of accomplishment at graduation and “feel good about what they accomplished in these last four years at BVH”. 

“What interests me the most is moving forward and to the extent that we’re able to is healing you know. Often, when decisions that are deemed as controversial are made, they have the effect of creating scars, people are very emotionally scarred by it and wonder to extend the metaphor further that scars heal,” Del Rosario said. “I’m really focused on making sure that students feel celebrated, and that they leave high school with that sense of promise of what’s ahead but also understanding that their experiences at Bonita helped mold who they’re going to become.”