A critic of the controversy surrounding a Coronado High School staff member was told he couldn't speak on the matter at the May 31 School Board meeting because it wasn't on the agenda. File photo.

The number of Hispanic students enrolled in Coronado schools has continued to increase during the past five years, mirroring a San Diego County trend, school officials told The Coronado News. 

Coronado Unified School District in September reported in Student Demographics Assessments Results that it had 2,782 total students in its four schools. In this student body, 24.3% of students were Hispanic. That’s a roughly 5 percentage point increase from 2016.

Across the district’s four-schools, the percentage of Hispanic students ranged from 19.1% to 26.8% at each school, with Coronado High School leading with the largest number.

The growth in Hispanic students comes after Coronado High School made national news in 2021, when the boys basketball team was stripped of its regional championship title following a postgame tortilla-throwing incident against a largely Hispanic team from Orange Glen High School. 

Two Hispanic high school students said that they have experienced racial tensions at Coronado High School, while one Hispanic mother said she believes the district has a safe, inclusive environment for her three children and the pandemic brought more Hispanics to Coronado.

Superintendent Karl Mueller expressed a commitment to upholding district-wide efforts that may ensure success for students coming from minority backgrounds.

“We are committed to connecting, challenging, and championing every child in our care, and are excited to expand and strengthen experiences which are purposefully designed to achieve our objectives,” he said.

Coronado USD Superintended Karl Mueller (right) looks on during a December school board meeting. Staff photo by Craig Harris

The Coronado School Board last June provided an update about student services that considered building minority students’ sense of school connectedness and that participation in the school community was a space for growth.

This update came after a California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) reported that Hispanic and Latino students were twice as likely to experience and report harassment compared to their White student peers.

The student services statement referenced the district’s commitment to a three-year plan to support positive student outcomes, or the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) that also emphasized “no tolerance for language, such as slurs, that target a student or group of people based on their identity.”

Coronado Schools spokeswoman Maria Simon said the district resembles San Diego County, which saw the growth of Hispanic students grow from 30% to 34%. 

However, while Hispanics compose about one-fourth of all Coronado students, they make up 17% of Coronado’s population, according to the 2020 U.S. Census Bureau data. 

Simon said that the term “Hispanic” entails a definition provided by the California Department of Education (CDE), which is  “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.” The term, ‘Spanish origin,’ can be used in addition to ‘Hispanic or Latino,’ according to the state Department of Education.

“Someone who is Hispanic or Latino could see themselves as belonging to any one or more than one race,” Simon said.

“If a respondent does not see a race group that applies after selecting Hispanic/Latino ethnicity, and after the definitions or other help has been provided, the respondent might leave the race part blank.”

From 2016-2019, the number of Hispanic students in Coronado remained at 20%. However, the number increased to 23% in the 2020-21 school year, and has continued to grow to where nearly one in every four students is Hispanic.

When compared to other ethnic groups, the Hispanic percentage, about 25%, is significantly higher, with Asian, Black, and Filipino students composing 1% each of the student body. The district reported that 57% of its students were White in 2021-22.

“Tortilla incident” still a problem

Hanniah Gutierrez, 15, is a sophomore in Digital Media at the Coronado School of the Arts (CoSA), a specialty school within Coronado High School.

She said that as an “off-island” student from Chula Vista, she has experienced some instances of discrimination.

“Freshman [year] kind of felt like all eyes kept on me, specifically after the tortilla incident,” she said. “That kind of made me feel a little like pointed out.”

Gutierrez began high school at CHS as a freshman in the fall after the tortilla controversy, and she said more recently some kids at the high school have recently made use of a racial slur.

“It’s making fun of Hispanics, the stereotype that they only eat beans,” she said.

She added that during the summer of her freshman year, she experienced offensive comments by some freshmen and middle schoolers at the Coronado Public Library. 

“They started following me around,” she said. “They kept asking me, ‘Hey, why are you here?’ One of them actually said, ‘go back to your country.’”

She said she told library officials about the harassment, and she said the students were forced to leave the library.

Gutierrez said she was shocked that other students would make racist remarks to her.

“Now things are slightly a little bit more calmer.”

-Coronado High student Hanniah Gutierrez

“Last year was a mess. Especially with the incident. Now things are slightly a little bit more calmer. The school’s been treating me pretty nice,” she said. 

Gutierrez considers the school’s inclusivity efforts as an area of growth.

“The teachers are actually really open about it and they talk about it, which is really nice,” she said.

Lucia Reynoso Torres, 16, is a sophomore who shared that her experience as a Hispanic student at Coronado High School has been okay. 

“I come from Tijuana, so like overall, even when I was little, like sometimes my speech patterns in English, I can mess up and get nervous,” she said. “And sometimes, you know, people usually get laughed at bad if they have like a thick accent … I notice that. … Sometimes I do see insecurities of Hispanic students here.”

Torres said a person’s experience is greatly influenced by their friends and acquaintances.

“At the end of the day it’s like, you know, we all have our experiences. We all eventually like face some sort of discomfort and peer comments,” Torres said. 

She added that some students are more accepting of others, but there are still racial tensions at the school and across the district. 

“I think one of the biggest marks is the tortilla incident that everybody knows about.”

-Coronado High student Lucia Reynoso Torres

“I think one of the biggest marks is the tortilla incident that everybody knows about,” she said. “That’s why we had, like, protest over here due to that situation and you know, what had happened.”

A parent’s experience

However, Cecilia Garcia, 45, said she’s had a different experience as a Hispanic parent in Coronado. 

She considers Coronado schools to have an “inclusive environment.”

Since moving from Mexico City five years ago, Garcia’s three children have attended Silver Strand Elementary and Coronado Middle schools. Garcia considers the growth in Hispanic students a result of the pandemic. 

“Many of us live here because it is a safer place to raise our kids.”

Coronado parent Cecilia Garcia

“A lot of families moved here during the pandemic,” she said. “Many of us live here because it is a safer place to raise our kids, where they also have more freedom.”

Apart from her role as Senior Director at Accenture, a leadership strategy consultancy, Garcia remains involved with her kids’ education. 

“I was a PTO Board member for Silver Strand for 2 years, and I still continue to participate as a PTO member,” she said. “We have a chat of all Hispanic moms in 6th grade, and we make sure that when new Hispanic kids arrive to this community we support them and include them, although I am sure we could do more.”

She added she was “incredibly grateful for the Hispanic community in the Cays and in Coronado.”

“It is a very united and supporting community, and we help each other very much as we have this shared identity and culture,” she said.

Navigating bilingual education with kids is another relevant aspect of their education, Garcia said.

“They speak Spanish at home,” she said. “I wish the school could offer a full Spanish immersion program, since I have to personally teach them to better write and read in Spanish.”

Garcia said her kids have received help through the English language support system, and they are actively involved in sports, school dances, and camp.

“All three absolutely love their school,” she said. “They are performing really well, they are super involved in sports.”

She said that neither she nor her children have experienced any discrimination and many of her daughter’s non-Hispanic friends have told her daughter, “I wish I could speak Spanish.” 

CUSD’s future plans

The district, meanwhile, is working towards building minority students’ sense of school connectedness and participation in the community.

Simon, the spokeswoman, said the District English Language Advisory Committee is composed of parents, staff, and community members, and it’s designated to advise a specific school on English Learner program services.

“Additionally, the district conducts educational experiences that promote cultural understanding, especially through the arts and music at all grade levels,” she said.  “Last year, Village Elementary School hosted ‘Meet & Greets’ during Visual and Performing Arts classes, where students met virtually with professional mariachi musicians through the Classics4Kids organization.”

Simon shared that there are clubs at Coronado High School which are related to Hispanic culture and heritage.

Another achievement in the district is the number of students receiving the State Seal of Biliteracy, as it has increased throughout the last few years.

Coronado High School students who received the award rose from 27 students in 2017-18 to 42 students in 2022-23. However, recipients’ racial data is not available, Simon said.

In considering the past with the Coronado High School boys basketball team, the district has implemented educational training.

Mueller, the superintendent, said teachers participated in training from the Bystander Challenge from National Conflict Resolution Center (NCRC).

Meanwhile, spring sports teams and CoSA students are participating in NCRC’s The Art And Science Of High Performance Teams workshops, which are expected to be completed by the end of school year 23-24.

School Board Trustee Alexia Palacios-Peters, in a statement, said she is working to ensure that a diverse perspective remains at the governing board level in representation of students pertaining to the various subgroups across the district.

“I believe in the district vision of ‘Every Student, Every Day,’” she said. “I believe that as a trustee, I bring a diverse perspective to the board as a parent of current students, military spouse, and Latina. Working with the board, we will look at data around our subgroups and allocate resources to support students with their academic achievement.”

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Julieta is a reporter for The Coronado News, covering education, small business and investigating the Tijuana/Coronado sewage issue. She graduated from UC Berkeley where she studied English, Spanish, and Journalism. Apart from reporting, Julieta enjoys reading, traveling, and spending quality time with family and friends.

The Coronado News is a 24-hour news website and direct-mail free newspaper to all residents and businesses of Coronado as we cover city government, schools, businesses, entertainment and the Navy.