Trump’s America: Berwyn Teacher Punishes Students for Speaking Spanish

UPDATE 8/31/16, 3:10pm: Gozamos reached out to Berwyn School District 100 for a public statement and for confirmation of reports that the teacher has since resigned. The school district released the statement below via email, calling the allegations against the teacher unfounded and stating the teacher has not been removed. Gozamos has reached out to MALDEF about the district’s statement. We’ll provide updates as we receive them.

For immediate release:
Berwyn, IL
August 31, 2016

A recent concern reported at Emerson Elementary School has been thoroughly reviewed by Berwyn South School District 100. The District’s review included an analysis of past practices, and investigation of reports alleging that student(s) were punished for speaking Spanish in class. The review has concluded that such allegations are false and accordingly have been deemed unfounded. In addition, statements indicating that a teacher has been removed from Emerson School due to discriminatory practices are similarly untrue.

Berwyn South School District 100 is proud of our diverse population and values and promotes bilingualism in our classrooms. Emerson Elementary School is a dual language school where students are encouraged to communicate in English and Spanish and where instruction is provided in both languages. We take pride in our inclusive learning environment where every student is valued, and our programs and goals are reflective of that philosophy. The information being reported by the media is contrary to what we believe and stand for as a district and is not reflective of the positive relationships we have built with our students, staff, and community.

District policy prevents us from providing any further information on personnel matters, but assure you that our staff is committed to providing high-quality instruction and a positive learning environment for all students.

Original report:

A third-grade teacher at Emerson School in Berwyn, Illinois, is under fire for banning English-learner students from speaking Spanish in her classroom and punishing those who did. The students were in their first all-English classroom, and when some of the eight-year-olds still spoke Spanish, the teacher forced them to sit on the bare floor, apart from other students who were allowed to sit on carpet. When the students complained to their parents, the teacher allegedly threatened the students with retaliation.

Parents reported the incident to MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund), who sent school administrators a letter, warning them that the teacher’s actions were illegal and citing past concerns that indicate a pattern of racist behavior by the teacher.

“Teachers who insist upon acting out their prejudices in the classroom have no business being in any public school in America,” stated Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President. “We all owe a debt of gratitude to the parents who stepped forward to challenge this unlawful conduct.”

As a result of the letter, the teacher was reassigned from that classroom. In a recent similar case in Texas, a middle school principal was fired for banning students from speaking Spanish.

While the gag rule may be reminiscent of the 1950s, when Latino students were segregated and physically reprimanded for speaking Spanish, incidents like these are not isolated. Efforts towards creating English-only schools continue despite extensive research showing the academic and economic benefits of dual language immersion and multilingual exposure.

Emerson School is part of Berwyn South School District 100, where 25% of students are English language learners and 82% are Latino.

“These students deserve a teacher that wants to be in the room with them and wants to help them achieve their potential,” stated Veronica Cortez, a staff attorney with MALDEF.

[Feature image via Wikimedia Commons]

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