12/12/2013 01:22 pm ET

Why You Shouldn't Be Afraid To Speak Spanish In School

Jack Hollingsworth via Getty Images

If you’re a Spanish speaking student the ACLU has a message for you: You shouldn’t be afraid to speak Spanish in school. A Texas middle school principal is in hot water regarding a Nov. 12 intercom announcement that banned the speaking of Spanish in class.

Principal Amy Lacey was placed on paid administrative leave two weeks after the announcement to 330 students, half of which are Hispanic.

In a written statement Hempstead Independent School District spokeswoman Laurie Bettis said, “We are continuing to create a culture of excellence which includes embracing all students of all cultural and diverse backgrounds. Our priorities are our students.”

Still, those same students said the post-announcement environment in the school was frightening.

“People don’t want to speak [Spanish] no more,” said Kiara Lozano, a sixth-grade student. “They don’t want to get caught speaking it because they’re going to get in trouble.”

Added eighth-grader Tiffani Resurez, “There’s one teacher that said, if you speak Spanish in my class, I’m going to write you up.”

At a recent Hempstead Independent School District meeting, parent Jamie Cavender spoken in favor of Lacey.

“I support the principal,” she said. “I really believe she did the right thing. My children don’t know if they’re being talked about or being made fun of.”

Added Lacey friend Connie Wawarofsky, “I think she was trying to get the students to understand that they are being taught in English, their state testing is going to be given in English, all of their tests say you will answer in English.”

Spanish at school

While this appears to be an isolated incident in Hempstead, a town of roughly 6,000 located 50 miles northwest of Houston, the ACLU of Texas is monitoring the situation.

“The principal’s ban not only violates the constitutional and federal laws, but it’s also bad policy,” ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Adriana Piñon told VOXXI. “It essentially gags Spanish speaking students and precludes them from conveying information in Spanish.

“A choice of language is a fundamental right, and the ban also raises school protection concerns. This ban was only prohibiting Spanish from being spoken, not all non-English languages were precluded.”

She added that such a policy could lead to funding ramifications for Hempstead Independent School District. Specifically, the no-Spanish-speaking edict is in violation of Title VI, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin in programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance.

What’s even more troubling to Piñon is such an edict flies in the face of research that shows the educational and economic benefits to a bilingual education.

“It also stigmatizes Spanish speaking students,” Piñon said. “The purported reason that a principal banned Spanish was to prevent disruption, and this problematically equates back to speaking Spanish to misbehaving. This sends a message that speaking Spanish is somehow bad, and that Spanish-speaking students are somehow bad. That’s deeply disconcerting.”

Invariably, such behavior is a byproduct of xenophobia, which Piñon said remains prevalent in our culture. She points to Arizona making English its official language in the mid-00s.

“It’s not new, and it’s not unique to Texas, but it is unconstitutional,” Piñon said. “I think one important point is there is no national language in the U.S. for a reason. We’re a diverse population that speaks many languages and have always spoken many languages. Americans do have a tradition of tolerance that is important to respect and to protect.”

Originally published on VOXXI as Don’t be afraid to speak Spanish at school



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