SAN RAFAEL, Calif. - An offensive sign, hung at a San Rafael elementary school, is getting a vigorous response from the district superintendent.
"I do consider the sign racism," said Jim Hogeboom, who included a photo of the sign in his January newsletter.''
Scrawled on a 4 by 6 foot piece of paper were the words: "Got English?"
Last month, someone draped it over the marquee at San Pedro Elementary School in East San Rafael.
"I think it's mean-spirited, like 'Hey why aren't we speaking English in our schools?'," said Hogeboom.
San Pedro Elementary has about 500 students, 98% are Latino, 85% are English-learners.
"The principal sent the picture to me and said 'what are we going to do about it?' So we need to call it out," said Hogeboom.
Hogeboom shared his disapproval in the newsletter, but also used the incident to discuss the long-standing issue of racial segregation in San Rafael schools.
"I'm very unhappy with it, it's just a huge problem," he told KTVU, noting that almost every child at San Pedro Elementary is bused in from the low-income Canal District a few miles away.
San Pedro is sandwiched between several afffluent, mostly white, neighborhoods.
Hogeboom said parents there generally opt for a different public elementary school.
Among the elementary schools collectively, white students are a minority.
"When 70 percent of our kids in elementary are Latino that's a changing demographic, and a hard thing for some white parents to deal with, a new world, new day and things are different," said Hogeboom.
Leaders in the immigrant community say the sign is not as important as the response and discussion it triggered.
"Whoever wrote that sign should know Marin County is an inclusive county and we want to make sure all students feel welcome, supported, and loved," said Omar Carrera, CEO of Canal Alliance.
San Rafael schools are planning dual-immersion programs: curriculum in both English and Spanish.
They are expected to diversify campuses, especially because bilingual skills are valued in the workplace and sought after because they give students a competitive edge.
"You need fifty percent Spanish speakers, so Latino, and fifty percent not. So by doing that program you get a great 50-50 integration, it will be awesome," said Hogeboom.
The goal: educational equity and inclusiveness.
"Nobody is pleased to see segregated schools, but the question is how is that happening, in 2020, in one of the most progressive counties of the United States?" posed Carrera.
Superintendent Hogeboom ended his newsletter message with his own custom sign, reading "Habla Espanol?" .
"Hey got Spanish?, Because we want our kids to be bilingual, so let's turn this into a positive!"
San Rafael City Schools has about 7,000 students spread over 13 schools.
On Saturday January 25, San Pedro Elementary will host a community meet and greet, for staff, students and families to mingle with neighbors and get to know each other better.