Blog: Latino Ed Beat

L.A. Teacher Led Walkouts of Mexican American Students

Sal Castro, a Mexican American Los Angeles high school social studies teacher who played a pivotal role in the walkouts of Latino students demanding better educational opportunities, died Monday at age 79.

In Castro’s obituary, The Los Angeles Times noted that students at five high schools walked out in 1968 “in a dramatic bid to remedy overcrowded and run-down schools, soaring dropout rates, poorly trained teachers, and counselors who steered Latino students into auto shop instead of college-prep classes.”

The Times went on to note that Castro once said that the conditions were “like American education forgot the Latino kid.”

For his role in the protests that became known as the “blowouts” he was arrested, then fired and then later rehired but placed at first in schools where there were few Latino students.

University of California Santa Barbara Chicano studies professor Mario T. Garcia wrote in The Huffington Post that “what the walkouts really changed was the consciousness of the students. They recognized that it was within their power to produce social change.”

Despite his punishment at the time, eventually the Los Angeles Unified School District appreciated his legacy. This week, the district posted a tribute to Castro online. The district later named a middle school after him.

Superintendent John Deasy said, “Sal Castro held a mirror up to our district that showed the need for a youths’ rights agenda more than 45 years ago. Graduation rates, access to college-prep courses, allocation of resources—all of these issues needed fixing and that is why we have spent every day striving to provide the education each and every one of our students deserves.”