Are you aware that the United States has no “official language”? It’s a fact that a lot of Americans don’t seem to realize, particularly educators who continue to push unconstitutional “English only” rules at schools.
While no one would argue against teaching English in schools, doing so at the exclusion of all other languages is where it becomes problematic, especially as the number of American public school children who speak another language at home grows. Forbidding students from socializing with peers in the language of their choosing amounts to discrimination. Schools should celebrate diversity and encourage multilingualism rather than inventing excuses to shut it down.
Here are five examples of schools that tried to “ban” Spanish on their premises before watching it backfire spectacularly:
1. Hempstead Middle School in Texas
Most recently, Prinicipal Amy Lacey told the entire school over the loudspeaker that students were no longer allowed to speak Spanish in an effort to “prevent disruptions.”
Whereas high schoolers may be more eagerly defiant of this nonsense, middle school kids – many of whom grew up speaking the language at home – were legitimately scared. “People don’t want to speak it no more, and they don’t want to get caught speaking it because they’re going to get in trouble,” said Kiara Lozano, a sixth-grader at the school.
After news of the ban spread, the district put the principal on paid leave so it could investigate. The superintendent has assured the media and concerned parents that no such policy exists in the school.
2. Esmeralda County in Arizona
In 2007, the local school board instituted a policy forbidding students from speaking Spanish on the buses. The rule was obviously targeted at a group of students who lived in a Spanish-speaking farming community miles away from the school.
Soon, the ACLU intervened, pointing out how the policy infringed on the students Constitutional rights. The Esmeralda County school board quickly rescinded their ban, instead trying a new system: students would be encouraged to practice English and study with a tutor for the first 45 minutes of the bus ride, then they were free to speak with each other in whatever language they chose for the second half of the trip.
3. Endeavor Alternative School in Kansas City
Though teenager Zach Rubio spoke English fluently, he did know Spanish from his immigrant father. Unfortunately, that knowledge put him in trouble at school. In response to a fellow student’s request for a favor, Rubio said, “No problema.” The simple response – which literally amounted to an extra vowel – was in violation of the school’s no Spanish rule and landed him a one and a half day suspension.
This 2005 incident sparked a controversy that ultimately prompted the school to revoke the punishment. However, the debate on whether English should be stressed in American schools continues.
4. Devonshire Elementary School in Charlotte, North Carolina
Hired to be a bilingual secretary to help communicate with the school’s sizeable Latino community, Ana Mateo was accustomed to translating for parents when other employees could not. However, when a new principal, Suzanne Gimenez, took over the school, she banned all Spanish from being spoken at the facilities – including for Mateo.
Though Mateo continued to relay vital information to parents in Spanish when necessary, Gimenez disciplined and ultimately fired her for breaking the policy. Making students speak English exclusively is one thing, but purposely shutting Spanish speaking parents out of the equation altogether is another.
5. Vineland High School North in New Jersey
Math teachers made their students sign “Classroom Protocol Contracts” which included a number of rules. One of the stipulations on the form read as follows: “This is an English speaking school and classroom – any other language other than English will not be tolerated.”
Again, the local ACLU chapter intervened: the Supreme Court has ruled that students don’t give up their constitutional rights by entering a school building, and as such, teachers could not expect them to sign away these rights. Representatives for the school district explained that this problem was isolated to a few classrooms and would not be permitted to continue.
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