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Sal Castro, 79; worked for rights of Chicano students

LOS ANGELES — Sal Castro, a social studies teacher who played a leading role in 1960s Chicano student walkouts, died Monday at age 79.

Mr. Castro had thyroid cancer and died at his home, his wife, Charlotte Lerchenmuller, told the Los Angeles Times.

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The son of Mexican immigrants, Mr. Castro was born in Los Angeles but spent some of his early childhood in Mexico. He could not speak English when he returned to Los Angeles in the second grade and was made to sit in the corner.

‘‘I started thinking, these teachers should be able to understand me,’’ Mr. Castro said in a 1988 interview with The Times. ‘‘I didn’t think I was dumb; I thought they were dumb.’’

Mr. Castro was a social studies teacher at Lincoln High School near downtown in March 1968 when he supported and joined walkouts by hundreds of Mexican-American students.

Their ‘‘blowouts’’ protested run-down and overcrowded East Los Angeles schools, poor teachers, and discrimination. Mr. Castro had earlier worked with students and graduates to present the school board with a list of demands intended to improve the schools.

‘‘The curriculum largely ignored or denied Mexican-American history,’’ said a statement from the Los Angeles Unified School District. ‘‘Chicano students were forbidden from speaking Spanish, and often, in spite of strong academic abilities, they were steered toward menial jobs instead of college.’’

Walkouts lasted several days and spread to 15 schools. Mr. Castro and 12 others were arrested. He was jailed for five days and charged with 30 counts of conspiracy, but the charges were dropped.

Mr. Castro was fired after the walkouts, but was rehired after weeks of protests by local parents. He retired in 2004.

Salvador B. Castro Middle School was dedicated to him in 2010.

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