LATINO VOICES

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

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.”

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BEFORE YOU GO

  • 1 Because lots of Americans speak Spanish
    As of 2012, approximately 38.3 million people in the U.S. spoke&nbsp;Spanish at home, according to the <a href="http://www.ce
    Getty
    As of 2012, approximately 38.3 million people in the U.S. spoke Spanish at home, according to the U.S. Census. That's 13 percent of U.S. residents ages 5 and older. 
  • 2 Because a bunch of our states, cities and streets have Spanish names
    Nevada, Colorado, Los Angeles, Florida, Montana, San Antonio, California and Sacramento are all Spanish words or names. The l
    Getty
    Nevada, Colorado, Los Angeles, Florida, Montana, San Antonio, California and Sacramento are all Spanish words or names. The list goes on and on.
  • 3 Because Spanish was spoken in what is today the United States before English
    Spanish colonizers first set foot in the area that would become the United States in the 16th century, <a href="http://www.st
    Getty Images
    Spanish colonizers first set foot in the area that would become the United States in the 16th century, founding a permanent colony in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565 -- well before the English set up Jamestown. All European languages, on the other hand, are more foreign to North America than Karuk, Cherokee, Natchez or the scores of other languages of the indigenous peoples of the continent.
  • 4 Because the U.S. has more Spanish speakers than Spain
    In 2013, the U.S. had the 5th largest Spanish-speaking population in the world. However, in 2015 it moved up to the <a href="
    Getty Images
    In 2013, the U.S. had the 5th largest Spanish-speaking population in the world. However, in 2015 it moved up to the number two spot behind Mexico.
  • 5 Because it’s the most-spoken language on the island of Puerto Rico
    And Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory whose inhabitants are U.S. citizens.
    Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
    And Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory whose inhabitants are U.S. citizens.
  • 6 Because the U.S. does not have an official language
    English is not the official language of the United States.&nbsp;Though <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/
    Getty Images
    English is not the official language of the United States. Though several states across the nation have adopted legislation establishing English as their official language, no such legislation has been adopted on a federal level.
  • 7 Because even English-speaking people use Spanish words on a daily basis
    Words like "cafeteria," "vanilla," and even "ranch" are derived from Spanish.&nbsp;
    Creatas via Getty Images
    Words like "cafeteria," "vanilla," and even "ranch" are derived from Spanish. 
  • 8 Because this Spanish-language network is a ratings beast
    Spanish broadcast network Univision regularly <a href="http://corporate.univision.com/2016/05/may-sweeps-to-date-univision-ra
    Photo by Alexander Tamargo/WireImage
    Spanish broadcast network Univision regularly outperforms English-language networks, especially on a local level. Univision stations in Los Angeles, New York, Houston and Sacramento closed out the May 2016 sweeps period as the most-watched early and late local newscasts among Adults ages 18-49, regardless of language.
  • 9 Because Spanish is becoming the second-most important language in politics
    Even candidates vying for political office recognize the fact that many of the nation's citizens speak Spanish, many releasin
    Getty
    Even candidates vying for political office recognize the fact that many of the nation's citizens speak Spanish, many releasing Spanish-language ads in an effort to connect with voters.