Why Is Boyle Heights Principal Missing?

Students Walk Out Protesting Beloved Administrator’s Absence

Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez High students say their principal has been gone from the campus for about a month with no explanation from LAUSD. They want him to be reinstated and allowed to attend graduation for the school’s class of 2024.By Pilar de la Vega

Special to the La Independent

Students and parents in Boyle Heights are demanding answers from the Los Angeles Unified District after their beloved principal at their historic community school was suddenly replaced without explanation last week.
Some 200 students walked out of class last Tuesday at Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez High School, and again the next day to protest the removal of principal Mauro Bautista.
Later a group of students and parents from Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez High School rallied at the school, holding signs that read “Free Jefe” and cardboard cutouts of Bautista.
“He has been a really good role model for us. He’s done a lot for the school,” Pedro Sainz, a high school junior, said about Bautista.
“I’m out here supporting my daughter who is a student here,” said Jonathan Everhart, one of the parents joining the protest. “Mr. Bautista is one of the best principals I have seen at LAUSD.
“He is from the community and his kids go to this school as well. Mr. Bautista has been a vocal advocate for his students, demanded no cops be allowed on campus and has been against searches of his students.
“He has also fought against budget cuts at his school and advocates against charter schools. Mendez students fear these are the reasons why he has been removed.”
In the history of Mendez High School?
The school is named after Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez who served as lead plaintiffs in the landmark Mendez, et al vs. Westminster School District of Orange County, et al, a 1947 case in which five Mexican American families challenged school segregation in California public schools.
The case helped lead to the desegregation of California schools and influenced the legal arguments that were used in Brown vs. Board of Education seven years later, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared that separate schools based on race were unconstitutional.
More recently, Mendez High was among the first L.A. Unified schools to be designated a community school in the 2020-2021 school year, according to the district.
The designation was sought after it was determined that the school already practiced the four pillars of community schools: integrated support, expanded learning opportunities, family and community engagement, and collaborative leadership practices.
Currently, L.A. Unified has 55 community schools and eight more are under consideration for the designation, according to Frances Baez, the district’s chief academic officer.
Mendez High also currently partners with St. John’s Community Health, which provides medical, dental and mental health services to students and neighboring residents through the school’s wellness center.
Additionally, the school collaborates with other organizations focusing on the arts, education, housing, social justice and more.
Through these relationships, the school and community address students’ needs so they “can develop to their full potential,” said. Emily Grijalva, the school’s community school coordinator.
Now students say their popular principal has been gone from the campus for about a month, with no explanation from district officials.
They want Principal Bautista to be reinstated and allowed to attend graduation for the school’s class of 2024. They are also protesting what they call a lack of information from the district.
“We want to know what happened,” said student Thomas Rodriguez. “Mainly we want Bautista back. But we want transparency with LAUSD. They haven’t been handling the situation well at all.”
LAUSD officials issued the following statement:
“The health and safety of our students and our staff remains my top priority. On April 29 and May 13, we sent a message about the absence of the principal. Per District policy, and out of respect for our employees, personnel matters remain confidential. District Operations and Region East leadership will continue to provide support to ensure Mendez High School continues to fulfill its mission of education in the community.
“Further, we would like to reassure you that Mendez High School and the District will continue to ensure the safety of students and staff at our schools. We have provided and will continue to provide updates to our students, employees and families about this matter as appropriate.”
The district said that in Bautista’s “absence,” Edna Bereal will lead the school as interim principal “in conjunction with Region East leadership,” according to the Boyle Heights Beat student publication.
Ana Vega, a regional director with the district, sent a message to the school community, letting them know Bautista “will be away from campus,” the publication reported.
A longtime Boyle Heights resident, Bautista was the school’s first assistant principal when it opened in 2009 and became principal in 2011.
Since opening in the fall of 2009, Mendez has worked with neighboring community organizations to provide services and opportunities for students, according to students and parents.
“The school and community are not separate entities,” Bautista has often said. “They are interrelated.”
“He gave us multiple opportunities to be a better us,” said student Haidee Deras. “Doesn’t judge us, doesn’t ignore us. He goes around cleaning up our trash when he doesn’t have to because he’s our principal.”
No one questioned his absence at first, until the principal never returned and replaced by an interim staff member.
“We, as parents, are asking the same as the students,” said Lluvia Sains, Pedro’s mother, who explained school officials have not told anyone, including parents and guardians, about what happened.
“Usually, the district — when they have an issue with one of the principals — they just remove the principal and place it in another school.”
What’s also concerning to the parents, Sains said, is that if Bautista did something that justified removal, parents should have been at least alerted.
It’s not clear why the principal was removed. A letter signed by school employees also demands clarity on the situation.
Chants during the march and walkout included, “When students are under attack, what do we do? Stand up fight back!” “No Bautista! No students!”
Posters throughout the march and picket included “Answers now!” “Speak up Ana Vega” and “We won’t be silenced until we get an answer!”

The Los Angeles Independent cover photo was taken by Andrew Lopez for Boyle Heights Beat. It is published with permission of Boyle Heights Beat.

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