Just when you think things are getting better, you find out outrageous news like this one: a bilingual secretary in a public elementary school in North Carolina has sued the school district claiming she was fired for speaking Spanish to students’ parents.
According to the article in the Charlotte Observer, the lawsuit states that in 2006, Ana Ligia Mateo was hired as a bilingual secretary for a school with a student body that’s 42 percent Hispanic. Everything was fine until a new principal came on board in 2008 and “announced in a staff meeting that she would no longer allow Spanish to be spoken to parents by any of the faculty or staff,” according to the lawsuit.
I recommend you read the article to get all the details, but the main point is that Mateo apparently continued to use Spanish to communicate with non-English speaking parents even though she was told repeatedly not to do so. After a couple of disturbing incidents where the principal refused to allow Mateo to translate for parents seeking help, the secretary told administrators she felt her civil rights were being violated. The principal told her to “follow her policy of no Spanish speaking or she could leave,” according to the lawsuit. When she complained to the human resources office, she was told she couldn’t return to the elementary school until she agreed to the policy in writing. She didn’t and she was fired in September 2008.
Fortunately, Mateo didn’t stay quiet. She took her case to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which eventually ruled that there is “reasonable cause” to believe her civil rights were violated. Last week, her civil-rights lawsuit was moved from state court, where it was originally filed, to federal court. Good for Mateo.
I can’t deny I was appalled by the whole story. My biggest issue is that I don’t understand the reason behind the discriminatory policy. I mean, why would it matter to the principal if Mateo was translating for Spanish-speaking parents? Isn’t it common knowledge that the more parents are involved in their children’s education the better off they’ll be?
The contradictory thing is that this particular school district apparently prides itself in making sure it meets the needs of Spanish-speaking families by translating materials sent home from school and providing translators. After all, 16 percent of the district’s students – more than 21,000 of the 133,700 – are Latino.
How’s this for another twist? The principal, Suzanne Gimenez, is married to a Latino.
Just as outraged as I was about the story, I was encouraged by the fact that Mateo didn’t go down without a fight. She’s apparently not talking to the press, but I’d give anything to interview her. We definitely need more people like her to make sure this type of absurd, discriminatory policies cease to exist immediately.
Indeed, just as we think things are getting better…
She was hired as a bilingual secretary, but can’t speak Spanish. It seems the principal’s staff meeting announcement forbidding staff to speak Spanish to parents, was the first sign of things to come. Folks should have acted then. At any rate, I hope the secretary hangs in there. This is unacceptable in 2010, and more so in a school, where we insist parents become involved.
.-= Cassy´s last blog ..Snow Day – a Teacher’s Best Friend =-.
Wow Roxana – WOW! I seriously read your entry, and my mouth continued to open in amazement with each paragraph. (A disturing amazement mind you) I have worked in public schools such as the one you speak of since 1981 and can – to this day – recall all of the staff being thankful when we had an interpreter up in the front office.
Every school I taught in embraced the diversity of the class population and, as you so wonderfully pointed out, isn’t the entire focus of these schools the education of the young children within the walls of the school? And doesn’t involving the parents in the education of their own children still stay front and center in any administration’s vision?
You go Ana Mateo – you take it right to the top! (applause – applause – applause)
.-= Beth Butler´s last blog ..Happy Valentine’s Day / Feliz día de San Valentín / Feliz día del amor y amistad =-.
I’m not surprised. My high school principal tries to apply the same rule school wide (no Spanish on school property). The students revolted against the administration and spoke anyway. He couldn’t enforce the rule and gave up…
Thanks for sharing, Ines. Where and when did this happen? I find it incredibly interesting and inspiring that the students “revolted” against the administration, as you say. Would love to find out more about it…
so very sad, but unfortunately I’m not all that surprised. I hope the outcome is one we can all be proud of.
fyi- change.org is putting together a petition/letter writing campaign if anyone is so inclined.
*if I shouldn’t have the link there feel free to remove it….
Maria, thanks for adding the link to change.org’s petition. We knew about it, but I decided not to include it because the petition is asking for the district to end its English-only policy. I; however, couldn’t find any info which confirmed that this is the case. In fact, the district is supposed to be known for working with Spanish-speaking families, as I mentioned in the article. Either way, if anyone feels like signing the petition, I’m sure it’ll help make some noise.
Good for Mateo for standing up for her civil rights!!! Thanks for bringing this incident to light.
Thank you for keeping us informed. I’m going to profile your blog on Facebook WLL’s “The Brief” on Monday.
Thanks, Rebecca! We’ll be definitely following this one. It’ll be interesting to see the outcome…
Thanks for that story, I hope you’ll keep us posted as to the outcome. This also reminds of the thousands of students back in the day who were punished (slapped on the hand) etc. for speaking spanish in school. When I taught kinder in LA, there were 3 other mexican american teachers who were all slightly older than me and not one of them spoke spanish because they were so discouraged as children in the states to do so… so sad.