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Spanish at school translates to suspension

Controversy caused by Kansas City incident reflects national debate

KANSAS CITY, Kan. - Most of the time, 16-year-old Zach Rubio converses in clear, unaccented American teen-speak, a form of English in which the three most common words are "like," "whatever" and "totally." But Zach is also fluent in his dad's native language, Spanish -- and that's what got him suspended from school.

"It was, like, totally not in the classroom," the high school junior said, recalling the infraction. "We were in the, like, hall or whatever, on restroom break. This kid I know, he's like, 'Me prestas un dolar?' ['Will you lend me a dollar?'] Well, he asked in Spanish; it just seemed natural to answer that way. So I'm like, 'No problema.'
"But that conversation turned out to be a big problem for the staff at the Endeavor Alternative School, a small public high school in an ethnically mixed blue-collar neighborhood. A teacher who overheard the two boys sent Zach to the office, where Principal Jennifer Watts ordered him to call his father and leave the school.
Watts, whom students describe as a disciplinarian, said she can't discuss the case. But in a written "discipline referral" explaining her decision to suspend Zach for 1 1/2 days, she noted: "This is not the first time we have [asked] Zach and others to not speak Spanish at school."

Since then, the suspension of Zach Rubio has become the talk of the town in both English and Spanish newspapers and radio shows. The school district has officially rescinded his punishment and said that speaking a foreign language is not grounds for suspension. Meanwhile, the Rubio family has retained a lawyer, who says a civil rights lawsuit may be in the offing.

National debate
The tension here surrounding that brief exchange in a high school hall reflects a broader national debate over the language Americans should speak amid a wave of Hispanic immigration.

The National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group, says that 20 percent of the U.S. school-age population is Latino. For half of those Latino students, the native language is Spanish.

Conflicts are bursting out nationwide over bilingual education, "English-only" laws, Spanish-language publications and advertising, and other linguistic collisions. Language concerns have been a key aspect of the growing political movement to reduce immigration.
"There's a lot of backlash against the increasing Hispanic population," said D.C. school board member Victor A. Reinoso. "We've seen some of it in the D.C. schools. You see it in some cities, where people complain that their tax money shouldn't be used to print public notices in Spanish. And there have been cases where schools want to ban foreign languages."

Some advocates of an English-only policy in U.S. schools say that it is particularly important for students from immigrant families to use the nation's dominant language.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) made that point this summer when he vetoed a bill authorizing various academic subjects to be tested in Spanish in the state's public schools. "As an immigrant," the Austrian-born governor said, "I know the importance of mastering English as quickly and as comprehensively as possible."

Hispanic groups generally agree with that, but they emphasize the value of a multilingual citizenry. "A fully bilingual young man like Zach Rubio should be considered an asset to the community," said Janet Murguia, national president of La Raza.
Broad influence
The influx of immigrants has reached every corner of the country -- even here in Kansas City, which is about as far as a U.S. town can be from a border. Along Southwest Boulevard, a main street through some of the older neighborhoods, there are blocks where almost every shop and restaurant has signs written in Spanish.

"Most people, they don't care where you're from," said Zach's father, Lorenzo Rubio, a native of Veracruz, Mexico, who has lived in Kansas City for a quarter-century. "But sometimes, when they hear my accent, I get this, sort of, 'Why don't you go back home?' "

Rubio, a U.S. citizen, credits U.S. immigration law for his decision to fight his son's suspension.
"You can't just walk in and become a citizen," he said. "They make you take this government test. I studied for that test, and I learned that in America, they can't punish you unless you violate a written policy."

Rubio said he remembered that lesson on Nov. 28, when he received a call from Endeavor Alternative saying his son had been suspended.

"So I went to the principal and said, 'My son, he's not suspended for fighting, right? He's not suspended for disrespecting anyone. He's suspended for speaking Spanish in the hall?' So I asked her to show me the written policy about that. But they didn't have" one.

Rubio then called the superintendent of the Turner Unified School District, which operates the school. The district immediately rescinded Zach's suspension, local media reported. The superintendent did not respond to several requests to comment for this article.

Since then, the issue of speaking Spanish in the hall has not been raised at the school, Zach said. "I know it would be, like, disruptive if I answered in Spanish in the classroom. I totally don't do that. But outside of class now, the teachers are like, 'Whatever.' "

For Zach's father, and for the Hispanic organizations that have expressed concern, the suspension is not a closed case. "Obviously they've violated his civil rights," said Chuck Chionuma, a lawyer in Kansas City, Mo., who is representing the Rubio family. "We're studying what form of legal redress will correct the situation."

Said Rubio: "I'm mainly doing this for other Mexican families, where the legal status is kind of shaky and they are afraid to speak up. Punished for speaking Spanish? Somebody has to stand up and say: This is wrong."
As a trilingual immigrant I would have to say that I am glad I am not in Kansas

5,270 Posts
i dont know....from what ive read of the united states (back in HS), you guys have a "cultural-mixing pot" philosophy kinda thing versus our "cultural mosaic" thing. this basically means in the states, there are no serious attempts at allowing immigrants to maintain their identity on the part of the government whereas here in canada it is encouraged, through government sponsored events and schools. in my eyes, this sort of thing is rather absurd but not unexpected in a country such as the united states.

here, speaking another language at school will not result in suspension, but it is discouraged because others who dont understand mite take it that you're talking behind their backs, and is also in a way disrespectful.

The Nexus of a Crisis, and The Origin of Storms
965 Posts

Well, being from Kansas I can honestly say that this situation is more representative of the problem than the problem itself. What I mean is when I was going to high school there were plenty of hispanics and asian immigrants, and it was never an issue for them to talk in thier native language outside the classroom. The real problem around here is that all schools have some sort of draconian laws, usually created by a principle desperate to distinguish him/herself.

For instance, at my old middleschool they enacted a series of laws that made it illegal to wear hats inside the building, illegal to wear trenchcoats, illegal to carry a backpack, they shortened the passing period to 3 minutes, and then told all the teachers they were not allowed to give bathroom passes during classtime, and all this in addition to metal detectors at every entrance. Why did they enact all these ridiculous rules? Fear, plain and simple. The teachers and staff were terrified that a kid was going to bring a gun or knife to school and kill one of them.

I don't usually endorse lawsuits because they are so often abused, and I wonder if this isnt just such a case. While it could be argued that the chunk of change that would come out of the schools pocket would set an example, I don't think taking money away from the already underfunded schools is such a good idea. Also, I believe that the media attention something like this recieves is a fairly effective way to stay thier hand. Then again, maybe money is the only retribution which will bring about any sort of change. Kinda hard to say, to be honest.

I think Americans are desperate for some sort of cultural/national heritage/identity, especially since many of us have already figured out that, as Mr. Durden put it so cleverly, "You are not your F'ing khakis." But thats a bit off-topic, eh?


The Hunter
17,202 Posts
Yeah why don't we take it to court? :rolleyes:

The guys already prove the school wrong and he was allowed to go back, why oh why can't we leave it with that and use it as an example for other schools to follow?

I know it sometimes isn't pleasant when you have a group of immigrants talk in their own language, because we have our fair share of them as well here in Holland. I have nothing against them, but sometimes you have a group of them standing together, talking in their own language (mostly arabic) and meanwhile they are looking at you with that look of "Yes we're talking about you". Yet they all speak Dutch fluently so there isn't a reason to speak there own language other than preventing other people from understanding what you are talking about. And that sometimes bothers me.

But if someone just asks a friend something in his own language which is the case in the article quoted, I don't see why someone has to make such a big deal out of it.

1,421 Posts
The problem is, though the Spanish kid was saying something oh so innocent, anybody who doesn't speak Spanish wouldn't know better. Those arab speaking guys could simply be talking about last night's game for all you know. Sure, their eyes say something else (or you suspect they do), but that's something that's pretty hard to prove. They might be cursing you, but tell the newspaper that they were just reminiscing days back in their country or something.

In the US, unfortunately, court language is the only language people go for.

Even with English fluency, a different tongue may convey things distinct to its own culture. I'm sure you understand.

But yes... it IS prone to cause tension. I can speak other languages, but only whenever appropriate.
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