Photo by Jack GouldHot on the heels of its recent vote to disallow a student trip to Cuba, South Orange County Community College District (SOCCCD) trustees on Monday night voted to block all student outings to Los Angeles County. "The trustees have serious concerns about allowing district-sponsored travel to Los Angeles," said a district spokesperson. "It's far away and dangerous. Plus, students might get lost."
In discussion of the recent controversial Cuba vote, trustees cited a report that "Fidel Castro made derogatory remarks about President George W. Bush." Later, in announcing the ban on Los Angeles field trips, conservative members of the board of trustees raised concerns about student health and safety during visits to the nearby metropolis.
"It's all about protecting our kids," said one.
Recently elected trustee Tom Fuentes voiced concerns that students might not understand compact cars, sidewalks, mass transit or rent control.
"These concerns are not political," said Fuentes, who is Orange County's longtime Republican Party chairman.
Indeed, some students at the district's South County community colleges—Saddleback and Irvine Valley—have never visited Los Angeles, which is 50 miles north of Mission Viejo, the district's administrative headquarters.
"I've heard of it," said one Saddleback College student. "Isn't that, like, where they had the riots?"
Fuentes expressed legal concerns, noting judges in LA County had ruled in several federal suits brought against the SOCCCD, finding that trustees had violated student, faculty and staff rights. "The judges up there are unbelievable," complained Fuentes. "I'm not sure if they even recognize our laws. There may be jurisdictional, even diplomatic issues here. You can bet I'm going to consult with Chris on this one."
Fuentes' reference to Congressman Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) reflects his close relationship to the author of a widely discredited report on China's security threat to the U.S. Cox contributed $5,000 to Fuentes' election campaign, in which he replaced the retiring Steven J. Frogue, the target of two recall attempts.
In explaining the LA travel ban, Fuentes cited Los Angeles as a Democratic Party stronghold. "I understand," he said, "that members of the LA City Council made derogatory remarks about President Bush. Some even suggested that he didn't win the election and lacked the intellectual capacity to govern!" As the local GOP chieftain, Fuentes introduced then-candidate George W. Bush to audiences across the state. Many speculate that Fuentes expects a position in the Bush administration.
Current district policy allows student visits to maquiladoras in Mexico, sweatshops in Indonesia and public executions in China. Indeed, the board had approved a recent study-abroad trip to the last country, the largest Communist nation in the world. Also, current policies permit students to organize field trips to agricultural fields in Orange County or to any number of restaurants and fast-food retailers employing underpaid and undocumented workers from El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala and even Los Angeles. Some students have inquired about visiting Europe.
"Yes, they are certainly free to go there," said a district spokesperson. "But what for? George Dubya hasn't been there."
Controversial board member Dorothy Fortune, who in the past has been a beneficiary of homophobic campaign literature, raised the issue of district liability. "If a student acts in any way offensive to the county of Los Angeles, the district would be potentially liable," she said. Asked what behavior this might include, Fortune, a longtime Democrat-turned-Republican, said that sometimes people's actions can be misinterpreted.
"You know," she said.
Fortune discounted Cuba's reputation for providing among the highest quality of free public health-care services in the hemisphere. "Oh, sure," she said. "And bring up Canada, too, why don'tcha?"
Meanwhile, a district spokesperson—a different district spokesperson than the one referenced in the first paragraph of this story—denied rumors of a plan to sponsor an Irvine Valley-Saddleback College student tour of Dachau, Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz led by former board president and Holocaust revisionist Steven Frogue.
"That would just be wrong," said the spokesperson (again, this is the second spokesperson, not the first one). "Wouldn't it? Well, wouldn't it?"
Eager to move past the Cuba/LA controversy, trustees took the opportunity to announce their latest comprehensive initiatives, including:
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•A program to coordinate critical thinking and reading programs with the Orange, Tustin and Newport-Mesa high school districts, where parents have recently lobbied to ban novels by Ken Kesey, Isabel Allende and David Guterson.
•The launching of a "Straight-Straight Alliance" organization to encourage traditional heterosexual dating among students.
•The Richard M. Nixon "Ethics in Government" certificate program.
Andrew Tonkovich is an Irvine Valley College instructor.