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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Nevada Funding Boost for ELLs Stirs Controversy

A $50 million boost in education funding may seem like good cause for celebration. But in Nevada, the reaction to the news has not been uniformly positive.

That’s because some taxpayers are miffed that only English Language Learners are the beneficiaries. The Las Vegas Sun describes how some critics believe the influx of funding “smacks of special treatment and seems like an unjust, unfair burden on taxpayers who must subsidize the education of a select group of outsiders.”

The word that jumps out to me most from that excerpt is outsiders. Unfortunately, when resources are tight, an “us-versus-them” conflict can surface.

The general public often views ELLs as immigrants — and they often assume ELLs are undocumented immigrants.

“How can I justify requesting millions of dollars for foreign kids when we can’t even help our own kids here in our own state?” one caller to a Las Vegas radio station asked, according to the article.

But the facts don’t bear that out. In Clark County Schools (which encompass Las Vegas), about 80 percent of ELLs are from the United States.

The funding situation was so dire that at one point the ACLU of Nevada, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), and Hispanics in Politics discussed a possible lawsuit against the state over the lack of adequate funding for ELLs.

A recent study by the UNLV Lincy Institute found that Clark County schools only provided $119 in funding per ELL students, compared with $4,677 in Miami-Dade Schools in Florida. About 94,771 Clark County students are ELLs.

It’s unclear how much $50 million will accomplish in terms of narrowing such a large gap.

According to the Sun, the influx of funding for ELLs will pay for items including pre-K and kindergarten classes, summer instruction, reading development, and new technology.

Related Links:

– “Funding boost for English-language learners prompts some backlash,” Las Vegas Sun.

– “Lawsuit Threatened Over Funding for ELLs in Nevada,” Latino Ed Beat.

– “Nevada’s English Language Learner Population: A Review of Enrollment, Outcomes and Opportunities,” The UNLV Lincy Institute.

– Clark County School District

MALDEF Investigates Latino Achievement Gap in New Mexico

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund  is investigating the lagging academic performance of Latino students in New Mexico. The Albuquerque Journal reports that the civil rights group is probing the substantial achievement gap between Hispanic and white students and how it relates to state funding. Given the announcement, some are wondering whether MALDEF plans to sue the state.

About 48 percent of  Latino third-graders in New Mexico are proficient in reading, compared with 69 percent of white students, the newspaper reported. Latino students make up about 70 percent of the state’s public school students.

News 4/KOB in New Mexico reported that Gov. Susana Martinez agreed that closing the achievement gap for Hispanics is a top priority, but that students of all backgrounds in the state need help. The state’s public education secretary, Hannah Skandera, told the station that efforts are underway to address the problem. “We require every school across the state to demonstrate and provide evidence of a plan of closing the achievement gap,” Skandera said. “We have not done these things before in our state. It really is a resounding commitment. I applaud MALDEF for taking their position on this.”

The recent annual “Kids Count” report on child well-being by the Annie E. Casey Foundation recently found that New Mexico ranks 49th in the nation in education.

Related Links:

– “Group investigates ‘achievement gap.'” Albuquerque Journal. 

– “National civil rights group claims Hispanic students deserve better in schools.” KOB.

– “Education report gives state nods, knocks.” Santa Fe New Mexican.

– KIDS COUNT profile for New Mexico.

– MALDEF.

Latinas Face Special Challenges on Path to College

Young Latinas constantly hear the message in school that earning a college degree is important. Then why do so many believe that it’s not an attainable goal for themselves? I delved into this issue in an article for Education Week‘s recent “Diplomas Count” report.

There can never be one answer to such a complex problem, though economic and cultural factors certainly play a role. A 2009 study by the National Women’s Law Center and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund outlined some of the biggest issues.

The “Listening to Latinas” study found that many Hispanic girls assume caregiver roles in their extended families–either for other children or elderly relatives–and that can make it more challenging for them to reach their educational goals. Loyalty to supporting the family can affect the decisions they make when deciding the direction of their own lives.

For my EdWeek story, I spoke with Celina Cardenas, a community relations coordinator in the Richardson Independent School District outside of Dallas. She mentors Hispanic girls who are wrestling with what to do after high school. She mentioned that girls may be reluctant to move out of their parents’ home to attend college in another city.

“It’s kind of like you’re born with responsibility—especially the girls,” she said. “Doing something on your own may not sit very comfortably with them because they may not want to let anyone down. I talk to them a lot about not feeling selfish that they’re disappointing their family by going away, and understanding there’s nothing wrong with having those goals.”

The MALDEF study also highlighted that Hispanic girls as a group also are more likely to struggle with poverty, depression and high teen pregnancy rates.

Statistics show that while Latinas are faring better than Latino males, they are not doing as well as black or white women in college attainment. According to an analysis by Richard Fry of the Pew Hispanic Center of 2011 Census survey data, about 17 percent of Hispanic women ages 25 to 29 have at least a bachelor’s degrees, compared with about 10 percent of Hispanic males, 43 percent of white females and 23 percent of black females in that age bracket.

Search for the local community groups in your region that are trying to help girls in your area. For the Education Week story, I followed  the Dallas chapter of the national non-profit group Girls Inc. as they led a large group of girls on daily college tours over spring break. I also visited the Alley’s House organization in Dallas, which empowers teen mothers by helping them get an education. And the nonprofit Texas-based  online magazine Latinitas gives Hispanic girls a venue to write and have their voices heard.

Related Links:

– “Hispanic Girls face Special Barriers on Road to College.” Education Week. 

– “Listening to Latinas: Barriers to High School Graduation.”

– “Diplomas Count.”

President Obama Marks Plyler v. Doe Anniversary with Key Immigration Announcement

President Obama’s announcement today that the United States will stop deporting certain young illegal immigrants  brought into the country as children comes on a significant date in history absent from many textbooks and unknown to many Americans.

Perhaps not even the young people affected by the administration’s policy change know about it. And the president did not mention it in his speech. The historic Plyler v. Doe Supreme Court decision, which affirmed undocumented immigrant children’s right to a free public education, marks its 30th anniversary today.

Obama’s decree stops short of the DREAM Act, and is just a temporary measure. To qualify, young people must be 30 or younger, must have been in the U.S. at least five years and must have arrived before they were 16. They must be currently in school, have graduated from high school or earned a GED, or served in the military. They also cannot have a criminal record.

It defers deportation for two years and allows them to get work visas, but does not provide a path to citizenship. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that up to 1.4 million people could benefit from the policy.

“This is the right thing to do,” the president said.

But how did the United States come to be in this position?  There are so many thousands of young people affected because of the still-controversial Plyler decision.

The narrowly decided 5-4 decision made on June 15, 1982,  arose from a  civil rights lawsuit filed in Tyler, Texas. It doesn’t carry the broad name recognition of Brown v. Board of Education. And yet, it is a decision that affects more children today than at the time it was decided.

I was working for The Dallas Morning News when I traveled to Tyler on the case’s 25th anniversary to meet with some of those who were involved in the case. While there, I recorded a series of video interviews and eventually wrote an article about the case.

In 1975, Texas began allowing districts to charge tuition to undocumented immigrant children or to bar them from school.  In 1977, a number of poor Mexican families attempted to enroll their children in Tyler schools. Because they were undocumented immigrants, they were told they would need to pay $1,000 per child, which they could not afford to pay.

Catholic lay worker  Michael McAndrew noticed they were out of school and brought the case to the attention of a local attorney and then the  Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Four families filed suit against the school district and Jim Plyler, the schools superintendent. Texas U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice ruled in favor of the families, and the case went on to the Supreme Court.

In 2007, I visited the humble home of Jose and Lidia Lopez,  one of the couples who challenged the Tyler school district in court. Their children later went on to graduate high school and remain in Tyler, where they are raising their own children.

“School is very important for all children, and they should not be discriminated against because they are Mexican or white or black,” Mr. Lopez said. “They should be equal.”

When I visited Jim Plyler, he said he had changed his mind and supported the decision.

Texas U.S. District Court Judge William Wayne Justice–who decided the case in favor of the children before it was sent to the higher court–told me that it was the most important decision of his lengthy career. Judge Justice has since passed away, but felt confident of his decision until his death at 89.

“I don’t know how many [children] got an education as a result of it, I can speculate it might have been more than a million,” Judge Justice told me. “Without that education they would have been a burden on the rest of us….When Texas educates these children, whether Mexican-American children or children of illegal immigrants we’re giving ourselves a break financially.”

In the Supreme Court’s majority opinion Justice William Brennan, a son of Irish immigrants, wrote: “It is difficult to understand precisely what the State hopes to achieve by promoting the creation and perpetuation of a subclass of illiterates within our boundaries, surely adding to the problems and costs of unemployment, welfare and crime.”

Related Links:

– “U.S. to stop deporting some illegal immigrants.” The New York Times. 

– “Secretary Napolitano Announces Deferred Action Process for Young People who are low enforcement Priorities.” Department of Homeland Security.

– Plyler v. Doe: 25 Years Later.” Video interviews with case participants. 

– “25 years ago, Tyler case opened schools to illegal immigrants.” The Dallas Morning News. 

– “Triumphs and Challenges on the 30th Anniversary of Plyler V. Doe.” Center for American Progress. 

– “School is for Everyone: Celebrating Plyler v. Doe. (ACLU) ” The Huffington Post.

– “Supreme Court Immigration Ruling Resonates 30 Years Later.” The School Law Blog. Education Week.