PILSEN — Pilsen parents are protesting new rules at Orozco Elementary after the school's principal pulled the Mexican National Anthem and instituted other cultural changes at the school.
Among changes, Principal Efrain Martinez also backed a uniform update at the primarily-Hispanic school, upsetting parents. Since the school's inception, students at Orozco have worn the same navy and white uniforms with red accents that are meant to resemble uniforms students wear in Mexican schools.
Starting in September, Orozco students will have their choice — they can either wear the traditional uniform or a new uniform comprised of a navy blue polo and khaki pants. The new uniform change was approved by the Orozco School Council by a vote of 8-2, according to a source who works at the school.
In a Facebook post, Martinez wrote that parents will have at least a year to transition to the new uniform, but at some point, the uniform will be permanently changed to only allow navy blue polos and khaki pants.
Students have traditionally worn navy and white uniforms with red accents that were meant to mimic uniforms students wear in Mexican schools. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
Yessenia Martinez, chair of the Orozco Local School Council, said in a statement that the new uniform will contribute to a more welcoming environment for all students. Yessenia Martinez and Efrain Martinez are not related.
"A new option has been added, as we continue to allow our students to wear the traditional navy blue pants, white collar shirt and tie. We are also continuing to gather the feedback from our parents at Orozco and from the community," Yessenia Martinez wrote.
Starting in September, Orozco students can either wear the traditional uniform or a new uniform comprised of a navy blue polo and khaki pants. [Orozco Local School Council]
Mexican National Anthem
In September 2015, Principal Martinez also decided to discontinue a longtime practice of singing the Mexican National Anthem at the school. Students at the school have recited the song after the Pledge of Allegiance on Fridays since the school opened in 2000, according to a source who works at the school.
The principal felt that singing the Mexican National Anthem during school hours was not inclusive of all students, Yessenia Martinez said.
"He has explained that the Mexican National Anthem was removed in order to allow all students to feel welcome and not single out any nationalities. In order to include all students, he has kept only the American National Anthem," Yessenia Martinez said. "However, Orozco continues to celebrate all the cultures of Orozco students."
Efrain Martinez, who was named to the principal post in July 2015, is of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan heritage, and his wife is of Mexican heritage. Martinez is bilingual, learned English as his second language and immigrated to Chicago in 1998 as a college student.
Lorena Vargas, an Orozco parent, said parents were not aware of the National Anthem change until this summer.
About 98 percent of Orozco's students are Hispanic, the school is located in Pilsen, a historical port of entry for Mexican immigrants, and the school is named for José Clemente Orozco, a Mexican painter who used art as a political tool.
Vargas, who also serves as a Pilsen Alliance board member, said the traditional Orozco uniform and recitation of the Mexican National Anthem are important traditions to Mexican-American parents. She said the new Orozco prinicpal is "acting like a dictator."
"José Clemente Orozco Academy is a community school in the heart of Pilsen. This is part of our culture," Vargas said. "For him to take something so precious from us is a slap in the face."
Vargas said Pilsen residents are struggling to fight gentrification in the changing neighborhood.
"We're struggling as a community to hold onto our roots, our culture and our tradition," she said.
Alicia Dominguez, a parent member of the Local School Council, attempted to present Orozco leadership with a petition signed by 150 parents who want the school uniform to stay the same.
Left: Alicia Dominguez, a parent member of the Local School Council, holds a petition signed by 150 parents who want the school uniform to stay the same. Right: Orozco Principal Efrain Martinez [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay; provided]
Efrain Martinez declined to comment, directing all questions to CPS' central office.
Martinez lives in Garfield Ridge and previously served as assistant principal at Newton Bateman Elementary School in Irving Park and assistant principal of Jungman Elementary School in Pilsen.
In November 2014, Orozco's Local School Council voted 9-0 to fire then-Principal Nancy Paulette-Aguirre in the middle of her contract.
Orozco Academy, a fine arts and performing arts neighborhood school, houses a regional gifted program for Spanish-speaking English-language learners, and serves students from kindergarten through eighth grade in Pilsen. About 600 students attend the school at 18th Street and Damen Avenue.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: