Following the shooting in Oxnard of a recently-out gay teen, State Assemblyman Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park) is proposing special funding for diversity curriculum in California schools.
Eng, who is also the chairman of the Assembly Select Committee on Hate Crimes, said he plans to funnel $150,000 to diversity awareness education, teacher training and measures to forestall suspected hate crimes.
"We need to have a curriculum on tolerance," Eng said. "Children react out of ignorance, and fear comes from ignorance. If education means anything at all, it gives people the option to do something responsible."
The legislation comes at the heels of a Feb. 12 shooting at E.O. Green Junior High School where Lawrence King, 15, was slain by 14-year-old Brandon McInerney after King allegedly revealed he had a crush on him.
Eng said there were numerous warning signs before the shooting, but school administrators had no means to act upon them.
"In Larry's case, we have (records of) text messages and prior confrontations," he said. "School authorities said they even talked to both the perpetrator and victim, but they couldn't do anything more than just talking. We need to develop protocols for people to report these conflicts."
King had revealed his sexual orientation at the beginning of the school year and sustained continuous teasing for wearing makeup and feminine accessories on his school uniform.
According to fellow students, King and McInerney had altercations about King's sexual orientation as recently as the day before the fatal shooting.
Mitchell Chang, associate professor of education specializing in diversity-related issues, said such confrontations perpetuate dangerous misconceptions that can quickly spiral out of control.
"We need to give (students) the space to have these conversations that is managed and supervised, not a haphazard, uninformed manner based on stereotypes," Chang said. "They're eager to talk about this, and they want to explore it. What (Eng) is offering them is the structured opportunity to combat lazy thinking that can lead to some very ill consequences."
Students at E.O. Green are slowly healing from the tragedy, and Hueneme School District superintendent Jerry Dannenberg said he is cautiously optimistic about Eng's proposal.
"We have many counselors, and they are reporting a very healthy reaction (from the students)," Dannenberg said. "I don't think (the proposal) would hurt. I think the issue should be how we as a society should accept our differences."
Eng said he is hopeful the recent incident will rally support for his legislation.
"In the past, the governor has vetoed it and no one would care," he said. "But now, the whole country is looking at California and asking if we're going to sit there and watch this happen."
Eng's bill is slated for introduction to the state assembly today. If it passes committee assignment and senate vote, it will proceed to the governor for final approval.
© 2008 Daily Bruin via U-WIRE