Apology, accepted.

But all not quite forgiven, or forgotten.

“It’s a good first step,” former Huguenot High School student Jonathan Villatoro said Monday at the school, not long after Superintendent Dana T. Bedden and principal Jafar Barakat offered a formal apology for a Feb. 1, 2013, search of Hispanic students.

In a 30-minute assembly at the school, Bedden said it was time to publicly acknowledge the incident, admit that it and the way it was handled were wrong, and begin the process of moving on.

“Today, we are here to take another step toward reconciliation and healing,” he said.

A little more than two years ago, there was simmering tension between black and Hispanic students at Huguenot that led to occasional outbursts of violence. The lack of Spanish-speaking staff members exacerbated the problem.

In a misguided effort to address the problem, Bedden said, Huguenot officials directed a number of Hispanic students to a central location with the school’s only Spanish speakers, members of the security staff. The students were then searched and threatened with deportation.

The incident occurred before Bedden was hired, but he said reports of it made a public statement necessary.


On a 6-1 vote, the board voted in favor of a slightly altered version of Superintendent Dana T. Bedden’s $286 million “statement of economic needs” for the year that begins July 1.


“We could have handled things differently,” he said. “We are a district that is moving forward, but we are a work in progress.”

Carolina Velez, a community activist who works with the Wayside Center for Popular Education and who has pushed for an apology, said she welcomed the words from Bedden and the opportunity the day allowed to be heard.

“We’re not going to stop here,” she said.

She and Villatoro, who was a Huguenot senior in 2013, said the big news of the day was being part of the program.

Two years ago, they demanded action and the school system responded by creating a Multi Cultural Task Force. But no one who had been involved in the Huguenot incident was invited to participate.

The Task Force lumbered on for more than 18 months until Bedden disbanded it last year, saying that it had not addressed the core issues Velez, Villatoro and others said were important.

“(It) was not representative of our people,” Velez said.

Bedden disbanded the group last fall after deciding it was not producing results or working with the people who most needed help.

Monday, Bedden apologized repeatedly to about 500 juniors and seniors in the school auditorium, then again in the library in front of members of the media.

“We want inclusion for all, regardless of race, creed or color,” he said.

He also apologized to the Huguenot faculty and staff, saying the school system needs to do a better job of providing the tools and training needed in an increasingly diverse city.

He talked about $1 million worth of items in next year’s budget for more staff and training.

“Is it enough? No,” he said. “But it’s a start.”

Barakat, who has been principal at Huguenot throughout the tension, also apologized to the students.

“I am profoundly sorry and whole-heartedly committed to regaining your trust,” he said. "We have and will continue to grow from this experience.”

Villatoro, who now works at the Rolls-Royce plant in Prince George County, said he came back "because I still care."

Since the incident, he, Velez and others created a video that shows the uncertainty of life as an immigrant.

Being back at Huguenot, he said, was a chance to show people that "they don't have to live in the shadows."

"We're becoming bold and being heard," he said. "This is proof that a small, dedicated group can make an impact."

Velez said she would rest easy when the school system learned to “treat all students with dignity.”

“We stand together with every person here,” she said. “We need to continue this fight together for a better school system.”


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