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School at center of storm

The principal of Patchogue-Medford High School asked

parents gathered in a crowded auditorium last night to stand and observe a

moment of silence for Marcelo Lucero.

"You have taken the first step in joining with us to be partners in

resolution," principal Manuel Sanzone told the hundreds of parents who attended

a forum to discuss the Nov. 8 stabbing death of Lucero, who police say was

attacked by seven of the high school's students because he was Hispanic.

Sanzone urged parents to "avoid stereotypes, prejudice and biases" and

asked them to "keep the conversation going in the home."

Later, the parents were invited to come to the front of the room to make

comments or pose questions.

One parent expressed worry about the safety of students walking to school

and another called for more diversity among teachers.

But the dialogue quickly turned sour.

Several parents complained about the media attention the attack has brought

to the school, and others cheered and applauded in agreement.

"What are we doing to make sure the media doesn't grab our kids to be

interviewed?" one woman asked, prompting the crowd to grow angry with a Newsday

reporter covering the meeting.

Parents screamed at the reporter to leave and a security guard physically

removed her as she tried to explain that Sanzone had previously given his

permission for her to be there. Sanzone stood silently during the reporter's

removal.

Earlier, Sanzone had outlined efforts the school has taken to address

Lucero's stabbing. He told parents that students have signed cards for Lucero's

family and formed a unity group, among other things.

Outside the auditorium, T-shirts were for sale that read "Patchogue-Medford

Cares" printed over a heart. Sanzone said a student designed the shirt and

proceeds will be given to Lucero's family.

Before the meeting started, Joanne Baggs, a Patchogue mother of an

11th-grade girl, said she worried that students are embarrassed about the

school because of the attack. "They feel they're linked to a prejudiced

school," she said. "Now, with all the extra security, the kids feel like

they're criminals."

Security measures have increased at the school in response to the attack,

with more guards and students being searched upon entering, Sanzone has said.

Waiting for the meeting to start, Peggy McMahon of Patchogue, who has a

daughter in the 10th grade, said she wants people to know the community is not

racist. "My daughter doesn't feel like that, I don't feel like that," she said.

"There's incidents in every community."

Sanzone and district superintendent Michael Mostow have defended the

school's race relations, saying that it is not a campus filled with hate.

But parent Evelyn Hernandez of Patchogue said before the meeting that

administrators are wrong. "They need to take the wool off their eyes," she

said.

There were only a few other Latinos in the crowd, she noted. "They feel

intimidated, that's why they didn't come." Many in the school and in the

community, she said, "refer to us Hispanics as Mexicans. They can't

differentiate."

School board member Joseph LoSchiavo said afterward, "We're going to host

more forums. ... Every grade level is getting instruction on issues of

tolerance. We will reaffirm our zero tolerance for any violence and bigotry

that takes place in the school."

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