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The Limits of Desegregation: A Story of Maple School (Part 3)

This is a series about efforts to desegregate Maple Elementary School in Fullerton. Part 1 of this series told the story of efforts to desegregate Maple Elementary School in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which was 98% Latino and Black. In 1972 the Fullerton School District Board of Trustees voted 3 to 2 to close Maple and bus all its students to eight “receiving schools” in the District (one-way busing). In making this decision, the Board dismissed proposals from a Human Relations Committee and Maple Neighborhood Group to keep Maple open and adopt reciprocal (2-way) busing between north and south Fullerton schools to achieve integration.

Part 2 told the story of the 1972 lawsuit Lopez v. Trustees of the Fullerton School District, in which an OC Superior Court Judge determined that the decision to close Maple School and bus all of its students to other schools in the district, was legal. The plaintiffs argued that the District’s desegregation plan violated the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment of the constitution by placing the entire burden of desegregation on Fullerton’s minority community.

Maple School circa 1972. Photo courtesy of the Fullerton Public Library.

Proposition 21 (The Wakefield Amendment)

In 1972, the same year that the Fullerton School District Board of Trustees voted to close Maple School and bus all of its students to other schools for the purpose of desegregation, voters in California passed Proposition 21, which banned school districts from using race to assign students to schools for desegregation.

In his book Racial Propositions: Ballot Initiatives and the Making of Postwar California, historian Daniel Martinez Hosang writes that the sponsor of Prop 21, Floyd Wakefield, was “a fiery conservative from the Los Angeles suburb of South Gate…[who] railed against the yoke of ‘forced integration’ and sounded a thinly-veiled call to defend white rights and ‘freedom of association.’”

Professor Hosang’s book explores the racial impacts of Prop 21 and other ballot measures.

Prop 21 passed with a 63% majority in 1972.

Following its passage, the NAACP and the ACLU filed lawsuits to overturn the measure and in 1975, “the State Supreme Court found that it violated the state and federal constitutions and involved the “state in racial discrimination.”

Hosang writes that although Prop 21 was only in effect for two years, it “did have a chilling effect on many local school desegregation efforts. In early 1974, the State census revealed that 192,000 more students attended segregated schools in comparison to 5 years earlier.”

Because Maple had been closed prior to the passage of Prop 21, it remained closed for 25 years.

Although Maple was closed as a k-6 elementary school in 1972, it remained open as a preschool, a community center, and a newly-created experimental “Community Open School.”

Judith Kaluzny, who had been on the Human Relations Committee that had developed integration plans for Maple that were dismissed by the District, was instrumental in establishing the Community Open School at Maple, which opened in fall of 1972.

“Arriving at Maple School with my VW busload of kids that first day of school, I was abashed,” Kaluzny remembers. “Mothers were standing on curbs waiting with their children to be bused to other neighborhood schools, while I and others were busing our children to their neighborhood school [Maple]. What a nasty choice the District had handed us. And I think they did so in order to keep us liberals busy and away from participating in the political consequences of closing Maple School.”

The Maple Game

The following year (1973), local civil rights activists Ralph Kennedy (who would go on to co-found The Fullerton Observer in 1978) and Kay Wickett hosted two seminars at the local YWCA to play what they called “The Maple Game.”

Clipping from the Los Angeles Times (1973).

The seminars were a part of the national Project Understanding formed in 1969—a group of churches with the goal of eliminating racism, which they defined as “anything which works to the advantage of whites and the same time to the disadvantage of ethnic minorities, whether it’s intentional or unintentional, conscious or unconscious, personal or institutional,” Wicket told the LA Times.

In the Maple Game, attendees took on the roles of different people and groups involved in the Maple desegregation controversy.

Some were members of the Maple Neighborhood Council advocating for two-way busing, others were members of The Concerned Parents and Citizens of Sunset Lane School, still others were members of the School Board and administration.

“When [the game] was all over, a member of the ‘elementary school administration’ had been fired for stating the root of the problem lies in the institutional racism that exists within the teaching system,” the LA Times reported in an article called “Maple Game Tests Fullerton Racism.”

The article begins, “Despite the seeming quiet of this upper middle class community, it seems there are problems of prejudice here, according to that recent gathering, although it is not the blatant kind of racism you’re likely to find in larger cities.”

The purpose of this role-playing game, according to Kennedy, “was to raise individuals’ levels of consciousness about the frustrations involved in solving a problem like the desegregation of the Maple School, problems that end up exposing hidden nerve endings, tapping concealed emotions about the existence or nonexistence of prejudice.”

“Nobody’s Complaining”

Even though Prop 21 was declared unconstitutional in 1975, it still erased the State’s integration guidelines and thus had a lasting impact.

A 1977 LA Times article entitled “Integration in County: Nobody’s Complaining” gives a bleak assessment of Orange County School desegregation efforts at that time.

“Information on the current status of integration in the county’s schools cannot be obtained from the local chapters of the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, or the Orange County Human Relations Commission,” the article states.

“In any case, neither the State nor the federal government has staff enough to monitor the status of school integration very closely,” the LA Times states. “At the State Department of Education, the task of counseling school districts on desegregation has been relegated to one man—Ted Neff of the State Bureau of Intergroup Relations.”

“Now that the Bureau’s role is purely advisory,” Neff said. “It is hardly ever consulted by school districts.”

By the late 1970s, local, state, and federal governments had largely abandoned active measures to desegregate schools.

In 1979, another ballot measure in California (Prop 1) would sound the death knell of school integration in the Golden State.

To be continued…

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2 replies »

  1. No story about segregation in Fullerton schools would be complete without discussing the “Mexican School” on the Bastanchury Ranch that was located in the bottom of the Brea Creek barranca.

  2. I attended FSD’s Valencia Park Elementary in the early 1960’s where my peers were white and Hispanic. Most of the Hispanic children at this school were recent immigrants from Mexico. One of my playmates would teach me a few words in Spanish. I was so impressed she could speak two languages. It would be interesting if someone would compare and contrast Maple Elementary with Valencia Park Elementary in the 1960’s. As an aside, I recently worked with a man who attended Maple Elementary in the 1950’s. He is a black man who grew up in Truslow part of Fullerton. He has life-long friends from Maple and a few times every year they get together to reminisce about Maple and Fullerton in general. It is a loss their voices are not part of this article. The point of my prior comments is to highlight fact that in working class recently constructed neighborhoods of the west part of Fullerton, segregation and prejudices was not as intensely rigid and cruel as found in other parts of this city. Looking from this point of view at segregation may reveal paradoxes and insight into the history of prejudice in California as opposed to having this experience filtered through the eyes and mouths of people who lived in neighborhoods with covenants.

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