The Westminster School District’s mission is “building tomorrow’s leaders today.” In recognition of its 150th anniversary, the district recently reflected on its history and the people who are part of it while laying out its plans for the future.
The district held its anniversary celebration on Sept. 29 with school district and board leaders, elected government officials, students and their families in attendance. The Westminster Police Honor Guard started the event with a flag salute, and guests got to experience musical and traditional dance performances by students in the Vietnamese and Spanish dual language immersion programs.
“We serve a very diverse community,” Superintendent Dr. Cyndi Paik said. “Our district’s Vietnamese dual language immersion program was the first program of its kind in the state.”
The two people on top of Paik’s list to invite to the big event were Janice Munemitsu and Sylvia Mendez.
“Westminster School District’s story is unique,” the superintendent said. “Over the years, we have served a diverse community with incredible programs, but our story also includes the landmark Mendez v. Westminster case.”
In 1947, the legal justification for forced school segregation in California was struck down by U.S. District Court Judge Paul J. McCormick, who presided over the trial initiated by five Orange County families.
The ruling ordered local school districts to end discriminatory practices against students of Mexican descent, and it ultimately paved the way for the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board decision.
Sylvia Mendez was about 10 years old when her family went to court over the right to attend Westminster’s 17th Street School, one of two elementary schools in the city. For decades, she has visited schools and educational institutions throughout the country to raise awareness about the civil rights case.
The Mendez and Munemitsu families are intertwined through history. During World War II, the Munemitsus were forced to evacuate from their Westminster farm into internment camps with other Japanese American families as the result of Executive Order 9066. They leased their family farm to Mendez’s parents.
In 2019, the Mendez family was celebrated by the district, which it permanently changed its marquee to read “In Honor of La Familia Mendez.” Two years later, Westminster High School in the Huntington Beach Union High School District dedicated its new learning pavilion in Sylvia Mendez’s honor.
Currently, the Orange County Department of Education and the City of Westminster have been collaborating to create an interactive park and trail to recognize the family’s legacy. The project is ongoing.
At the anniversary event, Mendez and Munemitsu spoke together.
“I am so proud of the Westminster School District for what they have done,” Mendez said. “I am so happy to be here. Thank you to everybody who has worked so hard to educate our children.”
Munemitsu added that her father, an uncle and two aunts attended Westminster’s 17th Street School.
“Just to see that our 40-acre farm is now Finley Elementary and Johnson Middle schools is such a great testament to the people here in Westminster,” Munemitsu said. “It is our hope that all children will have equal opportunities in education.”
After reflecting on Westminster’s history, the superintendent updated the community on plans to add to the district’s list of programs and specialty schools. Currently, the district has two language immersion academies, a gate magnet academy school, an environmental school and a computer science school.
“Our district is committed to ensuring that our future leaders are equipped with skills to be successful in college and their careers,” Dr. Paik said.
The Westminster School District serves nearly 10,000 students from preschool through grade eight at 17 schools in the cities of Westminster, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach and Midway City.