Published February 28, 2012
Gastonia, North Carolina – The U.S. Education Department is investigating a school district in North Carolina for allegedly forcing Hispanic students to sign contracts admitting that they belong to gangs.
At least three Hispanic families confirmed that the local school authorities had accused their kids of being gang members.
Enrique Avila, while a sixth-grader at Bessemer City Middle School, was suspended for 10 days for wearing a rosary that his mother gave him.
Evidently, rosaries are identifying symbols used by certain local gangs.
His brother Mario, then in 10th grade, was also accused by school authorities of having links with the 18 Street gang, and they forced him to sign a contract admitting he was a gangmember.
Enrique, now 14, recalled that school authorities said that he had to sign or "we're going to deport your mom or dad."
Both students signed the contract without their parents being present.
"How is it possible that they didn't call and warn me. They forced my sons to sign something without the consent of their parents. They have never had problems and are not gangmembers," Mario Avila, the boys' father, told Efe.
A similar situation occurred with the son of Silvia Calixto, Edgar Valentin, whom school authorities also supposed to be a gangmember when last year, at the age of 11, he brought a rosary that his mother had given him to school.
"They took me out of class and the school officials insisted that I belonged to a gang, and said if I didn't sign the contract they were going to find my mother and deport her to Mexico. I have a little sister and I didn't want anything to happen to her, and so I agreed and signed it," Valentin told Efe.
The student said that now the police have him under surveillance, and they continuously check him seeking drugs or weapons, and they blame him for any incident of lack of discipline at the school.
Edgar's mother, who came to Gastonia seven years ago, said that she feels indignant, since her son was forced to agree that he was a gangmember "when it's not so" and his situation at school has been "very difficult."
Byron Martínez, who for the past year has been helping these Hispanic families, told Efe that he learned about the abnormalities when he agreed to be a volunteer for a program and helps young people get out of gangs. That was how he came to know the Ventura family, who is of Honduran origin, in October 2011, when brothers Henry and Bryan faced difficulties at school because of their alleged links with gangs.
Alexandra Ventura, the boys' mother, who brought her sons to the United States to get them away from gangs in Honduras, told Efe that the problems began when Bryan began going to Bessemer City High School.
"They told me he had to sign the contract or my son could not return to school just because he wore red clothing and gloves. In any case, they expelled him and that day he had to walk five hours to get home," Ventura told Efe.
She said she did not understand what he signed because the document was in English and although later she was given a copy in Spanish, she did not have an interpreter present, or time to examine it because she got very nervous.
With her other son, Henry, he was marked as a gangmember because he was Bryan's brother and wore a t-shirt with the signatures of several of his schoolmates.
"I didn't want Henry to lose a whole year of school like his brother and the contract would serve to help him. I remember that the principal filled in all the information after I signed it and even selected the gang my son (supposedly) belonged to," Ventura said.