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  • Court rules 'Talking while Spanish' grounds for expulsion at Kansas school

    U.S. district court judge J. Thomas Marten ruled Friday that an English-only school policy at St. Anne Catholic School in Wichita, Kansas, violated no laws, and that the offense that has come to be called 'talking while Spanish' was grounds for expulsion in the private elementary school.

    Last year, in an effort to stop alleged bullying by students speaking Spanish in the sixth grade, the school banned all foreign languages in all grades: in St. Anne's classrooms, hallways and lunchrooms, as well as on the playground. To further discourage Spanish, principal Sister Margaret Nugent also ordered Hispanic students not to sit together at lunch. The school is 35% Hispanic, 10% Asian, and 0.05% African American and Native American. Apparently, only the Hispanic children were required to mix with the Anglo students. 

    St. Anne expelled several Hispanic students for failing to sign a pledge to use only English – the expelled children are all more or less bilingual, and one of the plaintiffs has English as his first language. Last May, the parents of three of the expelled students sued on the grounds that their children's civil rights had been violated, and that the English-only rule created a hostile learning environment.

    Judge Marten rejected those claims, ruling that it's perfectly o.k. to ban Spanish in school. He further found that the school's English-only rule had been in place for too short a time to create a hostile learning environment, and so it wasn't illegal.

    Although the judge didn't seem to consider how expulsion might impact the learning environment at St. Anne's, he did chastise the school for not anticipating the impact that the English-only rule would have on those affected, and for not consulting with students and parents before implementing the policy.

    Marten will issue a written opinion in a few days, but he told both sides that they were wrong to make the matter of school rules and lunchroom behavior a federal case: "It has divided a school. It has divided a congregation. It has divided the Hispanic community in a congregation, and it has touched a nerve across the country."


    Father Thomas Leland, pastor of St. Anne Church, said it would now be important to bring both sides in the language controversy together so that they could communicate.

    He did not say in what language that communication would take place, however in a press release from the Wichita Diocese, Leland is quoted as saying, "We want to move forward and continue educating our students and helping them develop spiritually and personally, so they can be successful, contributing members of our community of faith and the greater community as well."

    The press release stressed the diversity of St. Anne School, but Leland also hinted that any necessary healing would have to be done in English: "The unifying element in this case was the English language, because it's the common denominator among the students, teachers and administrators."

    Father Thomas Leland, pastor of St. Anne Church 

    Father Thomas Leland speaks with reporters after Judge Marten ruled for St. Anne School

    The St. Anne decision unleashed yet another flood of anti-immigrant feeling on local media websites (click here for some earlier comments made during the trial).

    Many of the readers posting to the Wichita Eagle or KAKE-TV sites seemed to think that the plaintiffs in the suit were "illegals" (they are not). Their comments reflected the common theme of xenophobia countered by the patriotic use of English, though often their English seemed so spontaneously unedited that it undercut their English-only message (to be fair, as it were, a number of anti-Catholic comments appeared on the sites as well). The following excerpts are representative of the negative comments:

    Start your own school, you Mexican people, segregate yourselves more by not speaking the still-dominate language, English. When you are able to take over this country, then you can make us speak your language.


    The Mexican Government keeps these people in line by keeping tortillas cheap and by brain washing. . . . You see a oriental come over and they master english and excel. The poor Mexican is Bi-Ignorant, can't speak or write english or spanish well, and do not do so well.


    We only missed by 1 vote in about 1796 of the NATIONAl LANGUAGE OF BEING ENGLISH or GERMAN!!! What is the problem? United we stand divided we fall!!   [the "German vote" is a common myth, but untrue]


    God Bless America! It's about time somebody stood up to the illegals!!!


    When I was a District Ranger in Wyoming . . . most if not all Sheepherders were from Taos, NM . . . . Upon riding into their camp I would ask "Habla English?" they of course would answer "Noooo!". I would take my pistol from its holster on my saddle and spin the cylinder and say again "Habla English?" they would then say "Si, Si, Si!" With this method of teaching I taught many Mexican Sheepherders how to speak English.


    I work with Mexicans and they make fun of me all the time. But, I can fire them if it gets out of hand.


    Watch the Olympics and you will see the country names are in English on the athletes. They know it is the premier language of the world and they want the world to know who they are. Why do we keep on fighting to make us a third world country.


    I am so SICK of hyphenated Americans. If you won't be an American, you shouldn't be here. There should be nothing in front of American when you declare your nationality. It is the thinking that people have that they need to put their prior country/nationality before our own that is killing this country. Many people have never set foot in the country/nationality they feel the need to claim, yet they declare that they are *O(&*@#^@-American. Give me a break already. Either you are an American or you aren't.

    And despite the fact that the notorious school shooting sprees of recent years have been carried out by disaffected and deranged white teens or adults, this comment from the KAKE Channel 3 website reflects the growing concern noted in a previous post that "talking while Spanish" is really a prelude to more violent school acts that can only be stopped by foreign-language bans like the one at St. Anne School:

    I just wish to remind everyone that many of the ordeals of 'bullying' and 'name-calling' have set off a fair few shootings in schools across the country in recent years. I applaud the school's administration for addressing this issue before the fact, instead of addressing their concern after one of the kids obtains a weapon and hurts themselves and/or others at school.

bhneed@gmail.com Aug 17, 2008 9:03 am

How can a Spanish speaker, using Spanish, bully someone who doesn't understand what is being said? I don't really care what is being said about me, unless I hear it and understand it. And it is perfectly possible to look threatening (stand over someone, make a face) and still say something nice--and vice versa! Which is bullying?




seamstress@web.de Aug 17, 2008 6:28 pm

Father Thomas Leland said: "The unifying element in this case was the English language, because it's the common denominator among the students, teachers and administrators."


In my opinion, respect for one another should be the common denominator.


Now with foreign languages banned, the next step presumably is the banning of non-standard English. Or figure Father Thomas and the blessed Sisters of St. Anne's trying to understand the street-talk which many of today's kids and juveniles resort to.


And just as I am writing this, I am starting to wonder whether foreign languages are taught at St. Anne's. This might get pretty awkward now...

fotofashion@gmail.com Aug 27, 2008 12:20 pm

Are we forgetting that many of our forebears who came to this country from somewhere else-you fill in the somewhere else, did not speak English either. Many of them never learned it well if at all. However, their children did learn English in addition to their parent's mother tongue.  I am personally acquainted with many Hispanic families. The parents who came here from other countries have difficulty with English just like many other immigrants. Their children, educated here, are completely bilingual. The xenophopic attitude I see in the other replies to this thread scares me.  Being bilingual where I live-near Houston TX- is an advantage. If you look at newspaper employment ads, many will either require English-Spanish speakers or it is a plus.      The rabid "patriotism" displayed is not real patriotism. Don't forget where YOU came from!


1776@usa.com Sep 8, 2008 11:21 pm

America's current spasm of Xenophobia is thinly-disguised as patriotism while, in reality, is nothing more than Us-vs.-Them (In-group vs. Out-group).  One's language derives from one's heritage culture.  New immigrants learn English because it is clearly in their best interest to do so and, accordingly, English is the most widely taught second language in the USA.  No language is truly "foreign" in America, and I (by way of example) am not deficient on the Patriotism scale because I speak Portuguese.  Yet, Republicans devalue me as a citizen because I am not a native English-speaker and - worse yet - prefer to speak Portuguese to fellow Portuguese-speakers whenever the occasion arises.  Even in Philadelphia (where America began), there is a well-known "Philly cheesesteak" establishment - applauded for its patriotism - which refuses serve non-English speakers, not because of any "language barrier," but because a customer's value is defined by his/her speech. 

Why are contemporary Americans so frightened by immigrants from non-English-speaking cultures?  It all boils down to Us-vs.-Them -- and never forget that "Us" is the In-group in this country.



B5@BlueWaterArts.com Jan 7, 2009 12:05 pm

"How can a Spanish speaker, using Spanish, bully someone who doesn't understand what is being said?"

Barbara, my kids go to a public school in southern California which runs about half hispanic.  For whatever reason, by middle school, there are gangs formed, not with weapons but using personal intimidation, and they are all hispanic, every one of them.  And they prey on my "Euro-American" kids (descended from families that learned English within a generation and lost the ability to converse with their grandmothers -- Polish, German, German Jewish, Welsh, Scot, and a few actual English).  (I don't know what the playground guard teacher on duty is doing, but there's one of them and several hundred kids, so I suspect there is just not enough supervision to combat them.)

I would never consider my kids fluent in Spanish (they're about up to "Uno, dos, tres"), but they sure know every Mexican swear word and insult word, both to recognize it and also to know what it means and how to use it.

And, with despite some setbacks in the bilingualism movement here in California, I am now expecting Spanish to be removed from the department of *Foreign* Languages, and given its own department, parallel to the English Department.  I expect within 5-10 years that California schools will be compelled, due to 14th amendment reasons, etc., to provide Spanish spelling, Spanish grammar, Spanish literature,etc. as a completely equivalent and valid curriculum in lieu of the English track, and to modify the high school exit exam to be taken in a choice of language.

This is part of a large-scale pay-back program for the (English-speaking) US 160 years ago who attacked Mexico and siezed what is now the US south-west.  The Indians held California for several thousand years, the Spanish held California for 50 years, and the Mexicans 25.  The US has held it for 160 years (twice the Spanish & Mexicans combined), but some how there are new immigrants (mostly illegal now, or 2nd/3rd generation descendants of naturalized illegal immigrants) who are claiming that the inherent character of California is Spanish and/or Mexican, and that it's time for the whole state to adopt their heritage as its own.

Balderdash!  (or its Mexican equivalent)

Dana Point, California

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