Courtesy of The Madera County Historical Society
Bob Warner, shown here, was principal of Madera High School during those turbulent days in the summer of 1974.
In the summer of 1974, racial trouble erupted in Madera. A 16-year-old male student at the high school threw a young coed, fully clothed, into the school swimming pool. Two female high school teachers, Rose Harper and Sharon Weldon, tried unsuccessfully to question the perpetrator.
Madera High Vice Principal Perry Harper and Learning Director Barry Crow intervened, and before it was all over, charges of misdemeanor battery were brought against the two administrators for allegedly roughing up the student.
Harper and Crow stood trial, and on Sept. 1 the jury rendered a not guilty verdict. However, if anyone breathed a sigh of relief, it was a bit premature.
The end of the trial did not squelch the controversy. On Sept. 17, approximately 70 student demonstrators calling for “students’ rights” and “better administrators” paraded in the quad behind the Madera High School administration building while Crow looked on. As had happened many times that summer, tires on Harper’s car were slashed.
Immediately after the demonstration, most of the participating students boycotted classes, demanding that Harper and Crow be fired. The next night the growing unrest found its way into the Madera Unified boardroom, when the Padres Unidos de Madera (United Parents of Madera) made an appearance and engaged in a heated exchange with some members of the board.
The next day, some of the students went back to class, but the uneasy truce dissolved as the day went on. Parents joined students in picketing in front of the high school. Soon other students were leaving classes, and with the encouragement of two Fresno organizers, approximately 100 students left the campus to gather in the afternoon in Courthouse Park.
The Fresnans said they were members of a Mexican-American student group at Fresno State University. The protestors insisted on two things: the firing of Harper and Crow and total amnesty for all protesting students. The board rejected both demands, and at the end of the day, everyone was back to square one.
In the face of this impasse, the student walkout at Madera High continued for eight days, and when the school board met on Sept. 24, over 200 people packed the boardroom to discuss the grievances of Mexican-American parents.
They were led by Mrs. Delia Rocha, spokeswoman for Padres Unidos de Madera. Once again the group demanded the removal of Vice Principal Perry Harper and Learning Director Barry Crow and amnesty for all students who were participating in the boycott.
Board members Rick Jensen and Jerry Barden traveled to Sacramento the next day to discuss the tense situation with a state deputy superintendent of public instruction.
Meanwhile that night Madera High School held a Parent Council meeting in which 250 parents attended. Contrary to the opinions expressed by supporters of the boycott at the school board meeting the previous night, the Parent Council gave a resounding vote of confidence for Harper and Crow. The group unanimously approved a motion, which stated, “The entire Parent Council of Madera High School goes on official record in complete support of Perry Harper and Barry Crow, and copies of this action will be sent to the board of education and school administration.
The Parent Council also served notice that it wanted a “get tough” policy in dealing with the protesting Mexican-American students who had been boycotting classes since Sept. 17. The group proposed giving the students five days to return to class or face expulsion from school.
Parent Council member Frank Gordon asked board president, Kenneth Gill, “When is the school board going to get some backbone and cut off negotiations?”
“What the hell is there to negotiate over?” Gordon queried.
With the ball now bouncing back and forth between opponents and proponents of the boycott, the gloves came off. In a meeting with representatives of the school district on Friday, Sept. 27, Padres Unidos de Madera rejected an offer to hire a human relations officer for the high school campus. Instead the group extended its demands.
In addition to firing Harper and Crow and granting amnesty to the boycotting students, the group sought several additional concessions from the board, including the adoption by the district of an affirmative action plan that would aim at hiring Mexican-American personnel at all levels to match the composition of the community’s population.
The group also demanded that fluent Spanish-speaking personnel be employed at the school in positions where there is contact with parents and the public, such as receptionists and office employees and that notices to parents be written in Spanish.
On Oct. 8, 1974, the school board responded by hiring a temporary liaison officer to act as an intermediary for students at the high school. The temporary position was meant to fill the gap until a job description and salary schedule could be worked out to make the job permanent.
That seemed to make a difference.
And that is where things stood as 1974 came to an end. When school resumed after New Year’s Day, the protests began to diminish in number and frequency. Likewise, the student boycott ended, and the school district prepared to meet the challenges that Madera’s changing demographics continued to pose in 1975 and beyond.
Meanwhile, Perry Harper and Barry Crow kept their jobs. Madera Unified refused to use them as bargaining chips in the intense negotiations that followed the long, hot summer of 1974.