A Texas middle school principal will soon be out of a job after reportedly telling students they're not allowed to speak Spanish on campus.
Amy Lacey, principal of Hempstead Middle School, about an hour northwest of Houston, reportedly made the announcement on an intercom Nov. 12 and was placed on leave in December, KHOU-TV reported. On Monday, the school board decided to not renew her contract, according to the Houston Chronicle.
"When you start banning aspects of ethnicity or cultural identity, it sends the message that the child is not wanted: 'We don't want your color. We don't want your kind,'" Augustin Pinedo, director of the League of United Latin American Citizens Region 18, told the Chronicle. "They then tend to drop out early."
The rapid growth of Hispanic-speaking residents has brought the issue to the forefront. Steve Murdock, a professor at Rice University, told the newspaper that half of all Texas public school students are now Hispanic, and similar populations are growing elsewhere in the U.S.
In addition to language concerns, civil rights advocates are calling for the Department of Justice and the FBI to investigate possible civil rights violations in the wake of Lacey's suspension — they're saying the action may have ignited an intimidation campaign against Hispanics, including the district's superintendent, Delma Flores-Smith. An FBI spokesman would not confirm an investigation to the Chronicle.
Flores-Smith — who said she's worried about her safety — reported that she's seen strangers watching her house and taking photos and that vandals have trashed her yard and rifled through her garbage.
Last month, vandals reportedly damaged the brakes of three district buses — and also left behind the remains of a dead cat. Police didn't identify any suspects.
"A lot of this sounds like Mississippi in the 1950s and '60s," Pinedo said during Monday night's school board meeting, acknowledging there is no hard evidence that the incidents are hate crimes. "But when the lives of children are put in danger, that's the bottom line. We don't know what the reasons are. Rather than guess, we're asking the FBI to step in."
He said LULAC and the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund have asked the Department of Justice to investigate possible civil rights violations.
"The whole world is watching. Banning Spanish is a national issue," said Tony Diaz, head of the Houston-based radio show Nuestra Palabra and founder of the advocacy group Librotraficantes.
A letter sent home with students on Dec. 2 stated that “neither the district or any campus has any policy prohibiting the speaking of Spanish," KHOU reported.
Advocates for students speaking Spanish say there's no evidence that doing so is detrimental to students learning the English language, adding that in most of the rest of the world it's common to speak two or more languages.
(H/T: Weasel Zippers)