Speaking Spanish was banned by Amy Lacy, the principal of Hempstead Middle School in Hempstead, Texas, according to students at the school. During the investigation of the matter, Lacy has been placed on administrative leave. Yahoo! News reported on the investigation of the allegations on Wednesday.
According to students at the school, the principal used the public address system on Nov. 12, 2013, to tell students that they were not to speak Spanish so that class disruptions would be avoided.
Fact is, many residents in Hempstead speak Spanish and about half of the students at the school are Hispanic. While it is agreed that teaching English is an important portion of the curriculum, parents who are not happy with the principal’s ban on Spanish say that learning English is a process, and understanding one another sometimes involves reverting to one’s first language.
The report also states that students have been disciplined by the staff when caught speaking Spanish.
David Hinojosa, of MALDEF - the Mexican American Legal and Educational Fund - believes that legal action could be taken if the students’ assertions are accurate. On Nov. 21, 2013, he wrote that the anti-Spanish policy also invites potential challenges under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution which protects pure speech of prisoners, employees and students.
This reporter has long reported on concerns of students and teachers – who have gone to the timely and costly process of learning Spanish to communicate with a classroom of totally or near-totally non-English speaking students – being banned from speaking a single word in Spanish in school settings.
At Waubonsee Community College in Aurora, Illinois, the director of the English as a Second Language program Katharine Grimes (currently listed as the Adult Student Manager at the school) often walked around classrooms and reprimanded students for speaking Spanish as well as severely reprimanding teachers for giving learning instructions in a student’s first language. She threatened that the program would lose funding or be shut down if authorities came in and heard Spanish being spoken.
If, in fact, that really is a rule in the ESL programs in Illinois or elsewhere, it needs to be readdressed to adhere to the federal constitution, so one would believe.
In 2007, when standing before a class, Grimes was reprimanding a non-English speaker in the first level of ESL classes for having his cell phone out while she was speaking to the group. The terrified student just stared at her in fear – not understanding a word she was saying. She repeatedly told him to put the phone away - and he continued to look in fear as his eyes glazed over. Finally, another student in the class dared to tell him in Spanish that she was yelling about his phone and he needed to put it away. Grimes continued to address the group in English when most of the students in the group didn't comprehend a word she was saying - as the students indicated after she finally had left the room. Instances like this occur over and over and over again with administrators who do not allow students – or teachers - to speak one word of the studetns' first language when they honestly don’t understand English yet.
Explaining a grammar principal in Spanish to confused students whose first language was Spanish got one teacher severely reprimanded by Grimes’ assistant, Gale Holladay-Baxter (who is now listed on the school's web site as the Adult Education Data Systems Coordinator).
Yes, the students are there to learn English and yes, they should be exposed to English mostly English in these classes. But when the assistance of a word, a phrase, or even a couple of sentences in one's first language can allow education to happen more effectively and faster than a teacher trying to explain a concept in English - in a futile manner - when he or she has the ability to speak the student's first language, it needs to be permitted - on a humanistic level if no other. When the teacher doesn't have the ability to speak a student's first language - yes, immersion is the only way.
The point is that the total ban of speaking other languages in education has been a concern for some time in the United States. Regardless of the way a program’s rules are allegedly written, common sense often dictates that those with the ability to speak in one’s first language need to be allowed to do so for the sake of the student's best education.
Many strongly believed that some school administrators and program directors refuse to allow one word of a student’s first language to be spoken in their schools because those same school administrators and program directors spending far too much time enforcing that one rule do not have the ability, willingness, or desire to learn a second language themselves – which, of course, would help them communicate with the new, non-English students from other countries and cultures who enter their schools and programs.
Especially when the students' first language is as common as Spanish is in the United States, many persons find it incredible that a person who cannot speak 'word one' of the majority of the students' first language is hired as a director of the program. When possible, to effectively do their jobs, directors need to be able to communicate with as many of the students they serve as possible - from day one of the students' educational experience in the school, before they have learned English.
This is the 21st Century. Times have changed. Many people now speak immigrants' first languages.