Texas Principal Allegedly Tells Students Not to Speak Spanish

A small Texas town is embroiled in debate after a middle school principal allegedly told students over a public address system that they would not be allowed to speak Spanish in class.

Hempstead Middle School Principal Amy Lacey is now on paid administrative leave while the Hempstead Independent School District investigates the incident, KHOU reported. According to the Texas Education Agency, about 53 percent of the school’s 206 students were Hispanic in the 2011-12 school year.

The district released a statement saying that it does not have any policy that bars the speaking of Spanish. KHOU reported that some students felt that the principal’s announcement resulted in discriminatory comments by their peers and teachers.

Hempstead ISD has 1,482 students. About 51 percent of students are Hispanic and 21 percent are limited English proficient. The small city is located north of Houston.

At a school board meeting this week, parents and students spoke out on both sides of the issue.

KHOU reported that one parent said she supported the principal because her children don’t know if their Spanish-speaking peers are making fun of them when they speak Spanish. Another speaker said the policy would help students by pushing them to speak in English, therefore better preparing them for being tested in English.

Meanwhile, parent Cynthia Zamora said the policy would hurt Hispanic students.

“You’re handicapping our children,” she told KHOU. “You’re telling them you can’t speak Spanish, and you can’t have anyone translating for you.”

NBC Latino reported that the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund sent the district’s superintendent a letter on November 21 saying legal action would be taken if such a Spanish policy were instituted.

“The anti-Spanish policy also invites potential challenges under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects ‘pure speech’ of prisoners, employees and, of course, students,” wrote MALDEF attorney David Hinojosa.

Related Links:

“Hempstead Students Say Principal Tried to Ban Them From Speaking Spanish,” KHOU.
“Hempstead ISD continues to debate ‘no Spanish’ Policy,” KHOU.
“TX Principal Accused of Banning Students from Speaking Spanish in Classroom,” NBC Latino.

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Colorado Early Learning Programs Receive Grant Assistance

The Mile High United Way in Colorado recently awarded grants to a number of early learning programs in the state. About $3.6 million in Social Innovation Grants were awarded to early literacy initiatives, and the programs awarded were selected through site visits and other data.

The grants are intended to help get more kids reading by age eight and have been promoted by Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration. The projects included $400,000 set aside for the Early Steps to School Success program administered by the Save the Children Federation to be implemented in Costilla and Alamosa counties, the Alamosa Valley Courier reported. The program helps parents prepare children ages five and younger for school through home visits and other methods. Officials hope to help about 500 children, with an emphasis on reading and literacy.

Alamosa school board official Christine Haslett told the newspaper that the program is especially helpful in a rural area where resources are limited. “When a program like this is brought to us, the benefits are immense changes in the lives of students, parents and siblings,” she said. “It is far reaching.”

Elsewhere, the Clayton Early Learning Center in Denver also received funds, according to The Denver Post. The center encourages a method known as “diologic reading” with toddlers, with adults stopping periodically while reading to their toddlers to ask questions.

“For example, in a story for toddlers about a bunny stopping to find carrots, the adult would point to the bunny and ask, where do you think the bunny is going next?” Learning Center President Charlotte Brantley told the Post. “It gets the children really engaged, immerses them in the vocabulary of the book and increases their comprehension.”

The Colorado Parent and Child Foundation also received funds for its Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters–or HIPPY program–and Parents as Teachers.

The Mile High United Way estimates that funded programs could reach about 24,000 additional children with the grant assistance.

One Latina’s Story Offers Insights for Coverage

A story this week in the Los Angeles Times illustrates the importance and impact of examining a larger trend through the prism of one person’s experience.

In “A hard life for one Latino teenager,” Richard Fausset documents the world of Miriam Hernandez, a 16-year-old Georgia-born teenager whose biological father was a Mexican immigrant and whose mother is a white Southerner. Miriam’s stepfather is an illegal immigrant who returned to his native El Salvador rather than face deportation.

The piece, part of the paper’s ongoing series examining “The New Latino South,” follows Miriam as she goes to school, works various jobs to support her family and tries to navigate daily life in a place adapting to sweeping demographic changes.

Like thousands of other Latino teenagers, Miriam is a blend of cultures and often caught between worlds, as Fausset points out in this description:

She sings along to Sinaloan bandas when she is busing tables at her uncle’s Mexican restaurant out by the shuttered chicken plant. She sings along to country hit-maker Luke Bryant when she’s driving in the family van with her white Southern mother.”

And in this one:

“[Miriam], the newest kind of American Southerner, struggles to survive and succeed and make sense of the world that remains.

She is in the Junior ROTC at Cedar Shoals High School. She is taking an honors literature course. She aspires to attend college and have a white-collar career, perhaps one that exploits her ability to bridge two cultures that can seem irreconcilably disconnected.

Perhaps, she says, she will become an immigration attorney.”

The story highlights a population that is growing quickly but remains often unexamined or covered in simplistic generalizations: Latino youth. It also contains lessons for reporters covering Latino issues.

  • Spend as much time as possible with your subject. It’s difficult to do in these days of banging out stories, but Fausset’s meticulously reported piece shows the rewards of being a fly on the wall. The reader gets a clear sense of Miriam’s struggles, dreams, and conflicting loyalties.
  • Put your subject in context. Even while focusing on one person or one school, remember that what you find often illustrates a greater trend or more universal concern. As Fausset notes: “Miriam’s world did not really exist two decades ago. In 1990, there were about 100,000 Latinos in Georgia; today there are 850,000.”
  • Look for small moments and details that reveal volumes. An example from Fausset’s piece: “The police have pulled her over twice recently, and both times asked if she was a legal resident. It pains her. So does the absence of people in her life who were, in fact, here illegally — the stepfather and her boyfriend, the friends and friends’ parents — all of them forced back across the border, leaving families split and sometimes shattered.” In those two sentences, Fausset offers insight into the emotional roller coaster of young Latino immigrants with mixed-status families.