Thursday, April 03, 2008

E-mail from Judson ISD trustee sparks cry of racism. he is offended by e-mails suggesting he should learn Spanish

Judson School Board trustee Richard LaFoille sent out an e-mail Tuesday suggesting the United States could prevent unauthorized immigration by digging a moat the length of the border with Mexico and filling it with alligators.

The e-mail, meant to be humorous, was a forwarded message featuring a Hallmark greeting card character known as Maxine. It also protested the singing of the national anthem in Spanish and noted, "If you don't want to forward this for fear of offending someone, then you're part of the problem!"

LaFoille sent the e-mail to a host of district administrators, trustees and others, including a San Antonio Express-News reporter.

Trustee Diane Bagley forwarded the message to Superintendent Willis Mackey, who was left off the original e-mail, and said while she respects freedom of speech, she does not want to receive e-mails from LaFoille that she considers racist.

LaFoille, responding to criticism over the e-mail, said he's not racist, but sent the message to people he frequently e-mails because, "I don't hide the facts

"I think that our borders need to be closed," said LaFoille, who noted that his father came to the United States from Quebec, but refused to speak French around his son.

"I don't care what color you are, black, white, green or purple, if you don't speak English, I don't want to talk to you."

LaFoille said he has been called racist in the past because he refused to vote for minority job candidates he felt were not qualified.

He said he gets along well with all kinds of people in Judson ISD, one of the most ethnically diverse school districts in the area. Nearly half of the students there are Hispanic and 27 percent are African American.

Children in the schools he represents "come up and hug me," LaFoille said. "They like me and I like them."

But he said he is offended by e-mails suggesting he should learn Spanish.

"I got about three of them last week," he said.

He also noted there are no Anglo Miss America pageants or Anglo college funds.

"It's ridiculous," LaFoille said. "I'm not saying there should be, but have you ever heard of one? And do you think if there was, people wouldn't be screaming that we're racist?"

LaFoille, elected in 2004, was unopposed last year for re-election to a three-year term.

Bagley said LaFoille's e-mail might have been meant in jest, but wasn't funny.

"It concerns me that an individual thinks those types of things are funny and yet represents our kids and our community," she said, noting she received a couple of similar e-mails from LaFoille about two years ago and asked then that he stop. "He needs to keep it within his circle of friends if that's what he wants to do. I am not in his circle of friends."

Judson's board has been known to spar, and trustee June Adair said LaFoille once asked her to stop sending him e-mails that weren't explicitly related to board business.

She said LaFoille's e-mail, which she also received, was "not exactly the most tactful thing to do ... but I got in trouble before for sending out e-mails that had scriptural or other messages."

Last year, Bagley sent a letter to the Texas Education Agency accusing her fellow trustees of racism for failing to support an African American employee for interim superintendent. The board later hired its first minority superintendent, Willis Mackey, in November.

LaFoille said Bagley is overly sensitive.

"She thinks there's racist undertones if you tell her, 'I met a person the other day and they were Hispanic,'" he said.

He said he didn't intend to send the e-mail her way, but Bagley thinks it was "an obvious jab."

"He did not agree in the past with my statements with there perhaps being a race issue in Judson ISD," she said. "He needs to go and find someone else to play with."

Linda Odell, a spokeswoman with Hallmark Cards, said the e-mail's use of the Maxine character was "absolutely not" authorized.

"What we do is bring people together in a positive way and certainly not to take political points of view," Odell said.

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