Val Verde County Historical Commission

Val Verde County Historical Commission

Old San Felipe High School

Doug Braudaway
Southwest Texas Junior College, 207 Wildcat, Del Rio, Texas 78840

During the first part of the twentieth century, Val Verde County had seven school districts: Del Rio Independent School District; Common School District (CSD) #2 (San Felipe); CSD #3 (Pandale); CSD #4 (Juno); CSD #5 (Star Route); CSD #6 (Langtry); and CSD #7 (Dolan). The San Felipe district was bounded by San Felipe Creek on the west, the Rio Grande on the south, Sycamore Creek on the east and the San Antonio-EI Paso Road on the north.1

The 1890 creation of the Del Rio district was important to the Del Rio community, but its creators did not consider the Hispanic/Mexican population residing on the east side of San Felipe Creek as part of their community--and drew the district's boundaries accordingly. The Del Rio Independent School District included the downtown business area, those areas immediately north and west of town, and the area south to the Rio Grande but excluded the east side of town.2 (The same east side did become part of the City of Del Rio when it was incorporated in 1905.) Still, "Despite being discouraged from education pursuits by the Del Rio community, the Mexican-Americans 'across the Creek'...had pursued primary education for their children since the early 1880s. In 1883 San Felipe residents built a small, wooden frame schoolhouse with a gabled roof for the growing population of between forty and sixty students. Although primitive by today's standards, this first building served as a source of both civic pride and F community service. Though this building has long since vanished, it once stood where the Stephen F. Austin Elementary School now stands."3

During the 1920s the San Felipe district operated two schools: San Felipe School #1 and San Felipe School #2. Number 1 had been an old wooden shack until 1908 when it was replaced with an improved structure. A second story was added later. The school was later known as Central School, then the Yellow School, or Escuela Amarilla. School #2, popularly known as Escuela Calaveras (because it was on the road toward the San Felipe Cemetery), was a two-room structure built in 1909, though two more rooms were added later. Increased enrollment in the district came from immigrants and refugees from the Mexican Revolution during the second decade of the twentieth-century and from migrant families unable to return to Mexico as a result of that same Revolution. About five-hundred students attended, most in first or second grade; the seventh grade being the highest level of instruction. For higher grade instruction, students attended DRISD, though their numbers were few.4

In 1928, Del Rio I.S.D. annexed a large part of the San Felipe/Common School District #2 territory including all of the San Felipe part of town and both school-houses. The officials of DRISD had applied to the County School Board, and the Board had announced on June 16 its intent to approve the annexation at the next meeting, June 29. The Board did allow speakers--in favor and in opposition--from the community to speak at that meeting, but, as it were, the fix was in, and the annexation was adopted. The Del Rio I.S.D. grew by 23.5 square miles, leaving only the less populated and less valuable property in the southeast comer of the county to CSD #2.5 The principal reason for the annexation was the Del Rio school district's "considerable indebtedness." The annexation would allow DRISD, the county's smallest district, to gain more tax revenue to payoff that indebtedness and pay for more facilities.6

The San Felipe neighborhood vehemently opposed the annexation. The leaders of the opposition included Santos Garza, Heman Cadena and Andres Cortinas, names now famous in San Felipe community history. The three men were trustees in charge of the #2 district and were very vocal in their opposition to annexation. Following the annexation, Santos Garza approached attorney Walter Jones, putting up five hundred dollars cash and a five hundred dollar note as a retainer. (Later, community fundraisers and donations raised $750, which was returned to Garza.)7

Garza went to the local state District Court and on July 20 won a temporary injunction blocking the annexation. DRISD responded August 14 with a motion to dissolve it, and on September 6 Judge Joseph Jones heard presentations from both sides. That same day, Judge Jones ruled in favor of San Felipe and reversed the annexation. DRISD announced its intent to appeal and followed through in the Fourth Court of Appeals on November 7, 1928. San Felipe won the appeal as well.8

Issues of race or ethnicity were not part of this court case, as they were in future Del Rio school cases. Nor were there any arguments based on personal rights or equality. For the most part the case was decided on technical legal grounds. The annexation, Judge Jones decided, would deprive the common school district of its duly chosen trustees and would interfere with the district's contracts with its employees. It would also remove a large portion of the taxable property from the district without its consent, impoverishing the district. The pre-existing $80,000 DRISD debt also meant that the San Felipe taxpayers would have to pay part of Del Rio's debt once annexation was completed. (The initial temporary injunction was needed to prevent DRISD from collecting taxes from the area.) More importantly, the judge concluded that the annexation of the area "was made without the consent or desire of the legally qualified property tax-paying voters residing in such contiguous territory sought to be annexed, and without the County Judge of such County having been petitioned by twenty or a majority of such voters." Furthermore, the annexation was a violation made "in utter and arbitrary disregard of the terms and provisions of Chapter 84 of the General Laws of the State of Texas." The annexation further would increase the size of DRISD to a size larger than allowed under Article 2765 of the Revised Statutes of Texas.9

After the victory Santos Garza and Rudolfo Gutierrez began discussing the creation of an independent school district for San Felipe. Such an action would prevent future attempts at annexation and give the San Felipe community greater control over its schools. Garza presented a petition to the County School Trustees with two hundred signatures which constituted a majority of the "qualified property tax paying voters residing in Common School District #2." The Trustees accepted the petition, and a motion was approved July 27, 1929 creating the San Felipe Independent School District. The Trustees also ordered an election to be held August 31 to choose the seven board members who would oversee the new I.S.D.10

August 31, 1929 is the official date for the creation of the San Felipe I.S.D. On that date votes were canvassed and made official. The seven new trustees were Santos Garza, Rudolfo H. Gutierrez, Andres Cortinas, Castulo Gutierrez, Adolfo Maldonado, Victor Vasquez Jr. and Pablo G. Flores. Lots were drawn. The first three men won two year terms, while the remainder won one year apiece. Garza was elected president of the board, and Gutierrez was elected secretary.11

One of the first items of business--certainly the item of greatest importance--was the creation of a high school, something the new district lacked entirely. Bonds worth $50,000 were issued after a bond vote carried 125 to O. Ad valorem taxes were established as well (at thirty-five cents per hundred dollar valuation). The new high school building was completed on December 13, 1930, bringing a full range of grades--elementary and secondary--to the district. The first class completing twelve grades was the Class of 1932, and two of Santos Garza's children, Elida and Estela, were part of that class.12

The new district is said to have been the only Texas independent school district created by a Hispanic-Texan community for a Hispanic-Texan community. "For the next forty years, the school would grow at a miraculous rate."13 The building stands on Garza Street, a street named for the man who led the drive for the school district. Sixth grade classes were held in the eastern end of the building, with students advancing in grades and moving westward until they reached the twelfth grade classes held in the west end of the building.

Within San Felipe High School itself, students learned most of the standard subjects and participated in the everyday extracurricular activities. The teachers are remembered as caring, and in the close-knit community, lines of communication between teachers and parents stayed strong. The curriculum included most courses--math and English, arts and history--but in the early years the high school did not have a broad range of science classes.14 Sports of the standard high school variety--football, baseball, basketball and golf--were complimented by a wide range of musical and theatrical groups--choirs, bands, marching bands, one-act plays, and cantatas (musical theater).15

The school district and the high school served the community beyond the standard curriculum. The school held citizenship classes for those wishing to become naturalized American citizens. Adult education classes also included a home nursing curriculum as well as a "Veterans Basic Education and Accelerated High School" with night classes for veterans "whose education had been interrupted by World War II." The size of graduating classes dropped significantly during the Second World War as young men joined the services; yearbooks from those years include pictures of soldiers in uniform in and among the standard yearbook photos. Over the years they and other veterans returned to school after dropping out along the way, so that San Felipe High School offered classes "beginning with the first grade and extending through high school."16

The San Felipe Independent School District, led by San Felipe High, served Del Rio's east side until 1971 when it was consolidated with the Del Rio I.S.D. This consolidation was actually fallout from an integration case developing in East Texas--a case which had nothing to do with the Del Rio schools, originally. Judge William Wayne Justice of the federal court in the Eastern District of Texas began studying an integration case brought by the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) against a number of "all Negro" school districts in the fall of 1970.17 In the process Judge Justice assumed jurisdictional authority over all Texas schools, including those in Del Rio. Both HEW and the court suggested that consolidation of the minority districts with neighboring ones might be constitutionally required.18

In Del Rio Judge Justice ultimately decided that lesser remedies would prove insufficient to resolve all of the different issues brought to the court by different government agencies, including the U.S. Air Force (representing Laughlin Air Force Base). The judge abolished both of Del Rio's school districts and ordered them to consolidate into a single, city-wide district (hence the "c" in the SFDRCISD). The judge also ordered the city-wide district to adopt both school districts' names so that the new district's full name is San Felipe Del Rio Consolidated Independent School District.19

Although the Mustangs no longer take the field, the purple and gold colors no longer fly, and San Felipe High School is no more, the school's impact on the community is still widely felt. "From the first San Felipe High School graduating class of 1932 until the consolidation, the state's only Mexican-American district produced a variety of accomplished and successful graduates. The overwhelming majority of the area's Mexican-American doctors, lawyers, educators, and business people were graduates of the high school. Nearly all the professionals of Mexican-American background in the area were former students." A graduate of the high school put the idea this way: "schools of our own."20

Alumni groups have formed in Del Rio and in California. Reunions are held annually, and the history is remembered and preserved. The "Exes," as they are commonly known, maintain a museum in Santos Garza's home down the street from the High School building. The San Felipe High School building no longer houses a high school, but it remains in use by the San Felipe Del Rio Consolidated Independent School District as a seventh grade school.21 The clock tower, a neighborhood landmark, still stands high above the campus. Buildings have been added to the campus behind the main structure, but the front facade and main entrance remain essentially as they looked all those years ago.

 

Bibliography--
Doug Braudaway, "Desegregation in Del Rio," Journal of South Texas, Volume 13, Number 2, Fall 2000, pages 240-265.
Carr Cardwell and Laura Tolley, "Justice Prevails," San Antonio Express-News, July 26,1998, pages IG, 5G.
Charles A. Garabedian, "The Wildcats vs. The Mustangs: The Consolidation of the San Felipe and Del Rio Independent School Districts," SuI Ross State University Master's Thesis, July 1994, page 19.
Mauro Paz (SFHS Class of 1946) to Doug Braudaway, personal interview, February 26, 2003.
Jaime Peņa, "A History of the San Felipe Independent School District and Its Influence on the Community, 1929-1951," SuI Ross State University Masters Thesis, August 1951, page 11.
Val Verde County Clerk's Office, Map Book 1, page 11.
"Integration Case Could Be Landmark," Del Rio News-Herald, April 14, 1971, page 13.
Jorge C. Rangel and Carlos M. Alcala, "Project Report: De Jure Segregation of Chicanos in Texas Schools," Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, Volume 7, Number 2, pages 207-391.

 

Endnotes--
1 Jaime Peņa, "A History of the San Felipe Independent School District and Its Influence on the Community, 1929-1951," SuI Ross State University Masters Thesis, August 1951, page 11.
2 Val Verde County Clerk's Office, Map Book 1, page 11.
3 Charles A. Garabedian, "The Wildcats vs. The Mustangs: The Consolidation of the San Felipe and Del Rio Independent School Districts," SuI Ross State University Master's Thesis, July 1994, page 19.
4 Peņa, "A History of the San Felipe Independent School District," pages 11-13, 27; Garabedian, "The Wildcats vs. The Mustangs," pages 19-20. This second source (page 21) quotes Gilbert Cerda, who attended San Felipe schools and later became the district superintendent, as saying that eight Mexican-Americans graduated in his class of fifty- four at the Del Rio High School.
5 Peņa, "A History of the San Felipe Independent School District," pages 13-14.
6 Garabedian, "The Wildcats vs. The Mustangs," page 28.
7 Peņa. "A History of the San Felipe Independent School District," pages 14-17
8 Peņa. "A History of the San Felipe Independent School District," pages 17-25.
9 Peņa, "A History of the San Felipe Independent School District," pages 18-25. (The judge's decision is quoted on page 22.)
10 Peņa, "A History of the San Felipe Independent School District," pages 26-27.
11 Peņa, "A History of the San Felipe Independent School District," pages 29-30.
12 Peņa, "A History of the San Felipe Independent School District," pages 32-36; Mauro paz to D.B., personal interview, February 26,2003 13 Garabedian, "The Wildcats vs. The Mustangs," page 3.
14 Mauro Paz remembers a lack of chemistry classes which later limited his vocational choices. Many later graduates must have had those sciences offered, considering the number of medical professionals in the San Felipe graduate ranks.
15 Mauro Paz to D.B.
16 Peņa, "A History of the San Felipe Independent School District," pages 89-90.
17 Judge Justice has variously been called "the major force for bringing Texas into the 20th century in race relations" and "federalism's devil incarnate" for his rulings concerning Texas schools and Texas prisons. Carr Cardwell and Laura Tolley, "Justice Prevails," San Antonio Express-News, July 26,1998, pages IG, 5G.
18 "Integration Case Could Be Landmark," Del Rio News-Herald, April 14, 1971, page 13. "By compelling state education officials to exercise their powers to desegregate schools for [minorities], a statewide suit would conserve time and legal resources which would otherwise be expended on district-by-district suits." Rangel and Alcala, "Project Report," page 375.
19 For a longer account, see Doug Braudaway, "Desegregation in Del Rio," Journal of South Texas, Volume 13, Number 2, Fall 2000, pages 240-265. 20 Garabedian, "The Wildcats vs. The Mustangs," page 35; Mauro paz to D.B.
21 Del Rio has several school campuses dedicated to a single grade level. This is ordered by Judge Justice to guarantee that all students, regardless of race or ethnicity, receive the same level of education funding. It also results in students from each district spending time in all parts of town during their secondary education.