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Texas School Attempts To Force Hispanic Students To Stop Speaking Spanish


by: Omar Araiza

Sat Dec 07, 2013 at 00:00 PM CST



Hempstead Middle School.
Hispanic children at Hempstead Middle School in Hempstead, Texas, were banned from speaking Spanish by their school principal last month.

Reported by KHOU 11 News, students said their school principal, Amy Lacey, informed them over the intercom that they were prohibited from speaking Spanish during class. Several teachers also issued their own policy, threatening Hispanic students they would be written up or expelled from the classroom if they were caught speaking Spanish.

The controversy is finally being made known to parents and the public.

Read more below the jump.

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Because over 50 percent of students enrolled at Hempstead Middle School are Hispanic, the news didn't take long to reach their parents. The school superintendent was forced to clarify through a letter this week stating that "neither the district or any campus has any policy prohibiting the speaking of Spanish."

The principal that made up the policy and lied to the students has since been placed on paid administrative leave while the allegations undergo investigation. No word if any of the teachers that also threatened Hispanic students were placed on leave.

"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 sixth-grade student Kiara Lozano to KHOU.

Spokeswoman Laurie Bettis of Hempstead ISD released a written statement along with the letter to inform parents that actions were being taken by the district. Part of the statement reads as follows:

"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.

"The district has received allegations regarding this issue and the district is investigating the matter. At this time the administrator is on administrative leave with pay until the investigation is completed and appropriate action is determined. This is all we can say at this time as there is a pending investigation on this matter.

"The district is committed to efficiently and effectively resolving this matter with as little disruption to our students and their learning environment as possible."

But the damage has already been made.

Parents aren't happy that school authorities would attempt  to discriminate on their children, and want to know why the school principal would even come up with such a policy.

"Why are you punishing our children like this?" asked mother Cynthia Zamora.

Interestingly enough, there are residents that support Principal Lacey and the teachers that threatened the young kids to stop speaking Spanish.

"I would defend her because she's right," said resident Ruth Zboril to CBS affiliates. "How else are they going to assimilate?"

It may come to a surprise to Principal Lacey and the residents that support the ban because of concerns of proper "assimilation" for Hispanic students, but people in Texas speak Spanish. In fact, Spanish has been part of the state's history for a long time. Centuries long. Texas (originally Tejas) used to previously be a part of New Spain, and then Mexico.

Spanish is a Texas language. Rightfully the same way that English is a language of Texas. As are other languages spoken by the people from this state throughout our state's history. Not to mention there are these things called rights -- it is important to note here the First Amendment -- that exist to protect students from these forms of discrimination in the first place.

Growing up I heard stories from older Hispanic Americans of being prohibited, and many times also physically forced, not to speak Spanish in school. Punished and whipped for speaking their heritage language. This was also the time when public places commonly warned "No dogs or Mexicans Allowed." One would like to think abusing children and shaming them for speaking their mother language ended many generations ago, but even when I was a kid, I remember being reminded by teachers that I was no longer in ESL (English as a Second Language) class, and needed only to speak English. No actual policy in place, just shame and empty threats to a child.

Only in a Red Texas would officials wish to deprive our children from multilingualism, as opposed to encourage and fund their educational development.



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I agree this sounds bad and may very well be bad; certainly, the exchange the student describes with a teacher is disturbing. But I also think that the exact request or rule that was put out by the school principal needs to be published before we spool up the outrage machine.

There have been other stories spread in the US an elsewhere as "people banned from speaking language X / languages that are not X" that turned out not to be quite what they seemed.

It's right to be sensitive and vigilant against political or social attempts to enforce a dominant culture by tamping down on a minority language. This is a real problem in the world, and it's especially harmful when children are used as pawns in the game.

It's also true that in professional, "on the clock" situations, there are good reasons to mandate that everyone be able to understand what is said or written. You don't want a board meeting or a classroom discussion to be an environment where people code switch in order to selectively exclude part of the group from the meaning of what is said. If I recall correctly, some of the stories that have been billed like this one have turned out to be instances where a company actually had a fairly narrow policy about using a certain common language while doing professional tasks.

The grey area here would be the "in the classroom" part that was reported. It seems pretty obvious that a school can/should require the common lingua franca (English, in this case) when delivering an oral presentation or having a substantive class discussion. It seems equally obvious that a school has no right to dictate the language that children use at the lunch table. And of course it's actually a good thing for students with no Spanish background to pick up a few things in other languages in those informal environments.

So where does that leave the kind of communication that gets spoken between students across a classroom while the class is doing worksheets, getting papers passed back, etc.? Is that "downtime" equivalent to being at lunch or in the hallways between classes? Or is still professional time, albeit unstructured, where every student has the right to be able to understand what is said? And is the line always in the same place, or does it shift if, for example, teachers notice a pattern of students insulting others out loud in a language the target doesn't understand or deliberately excluding certain students from interactions?

I don't have a firm grasp of the exactly right answer to either of the questions in that last paragraph. So when I hear about a scandal involving "banning Spanish at a school/in a classroom", I'm definitely concerned, but I feel like I need a lot more detail before I jump to the conclusion that something oppressive is going on.


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