Last week, a high school class in Cliffside Park, New Jersey played host to one of the most staggeringly racist incidents in recent memory. When a teacher overheard some of her students speaking Spanish, she snapped that they ought to “speak American.”
On Thursday, The Daily Voice learned about a disturbing video from Cliffside Park High School. A teacher overheard students whispering in Spanish. But she couldn’t leave well enough alone by merely telling them to stop. She had to play the race card. Watch here.
The teacher was heard snapping at the students:
“Men and women are fighting. They are not fighting for your right to speak Spanish, they are fighting for your right to speak American.”
Understandably, that didn’t play well with the students, at least one of whom walked out.
On Friday, the principal called an assembly to discuss the issue. Apparently that didn’t diffuse the matter, because on Monday, some 50 students walked out of class during fourth period. They walked out waving flags from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Brazil, among others. Cliffside Park High is one of the most diverse schools in New Jersey; some 67 percent of the student body identifies as minority, and they speak more than 40 languages. At last report, almost 64 percent of the students spoke a language other than English at home, with Spanish accounting for over 44 percent.
According to WABC-TV in New York, the student who was the object of the teacher’s ire was Yenifer Pinales, who said that the teacher blew a gasket after overhearing her speak Spanish. According to the fluently bilingual Pinales, the teacher yelled at her that she was “fed up with you speaking Spanish.”
When Pinales told the teacher that she was disgusted at those comments, the teacher kicked her out of class. However, this seems to be a classic case of “two wrongs don’t make a right.” While Pinales shouldn’t have been whispering, this teacher’s response was beyond unprofessional.
A number of residents stopped in the street to watch the walkout. One of them was Rene Lavergeneau, the former foreign languages and English as a Second Language coordinator for the public schools in nearby Hackensack. She told The (Bergen County) Record that it was “deplorable” for a teacher to say such a thing to a student “who’s here because this is a land of opportunity.” Lavergeneau said that the teacher should have understood that “speaking Spanish is an asset.”
Students of many ethnic backgrounds took part in the walkout. Among them was Turkish-American Eren Dayakli, who was particularly insulted by the teacher’s claim that soldiers were fighting for the right to speak American. Dayakli said that both of his uncles served in the military, but “they weren’t even born here.”
The walkout took place despite threats that anyone who did so would be suspended. Considering the circumstances, there’s no defensible reason for suspensions here. After all, the students were not provoking anything. They were responding to provocation–possibly intentional, but a provocation nonetheless.
The Cliffside Park Board of Education called a meeting for Monday night in closed session to discuss a personnel matter–presumably related to the teacher. At the very least, this teacher is in serious need of sensitivity training. As the son of a teacher, and as someone who counts a number of teachers as friends and has dated teachers in the past, this woman is in serious need of sensitivity training. And unless she can explain why she couldn’t have simply told Pinales to stop whispering rather than rant about the need to “speak American,” she owes that class an apology.
(featured image courtesy Jim.henderson, part of public domain)