Kansas: School says: Speak English. Diocese officials say the policy was created to curb bullying by a specific group of students.

Francis Hult francis.hult at UTSA.EDU
Sun Oct 21 17:27:58 UTC 2007

Via lgpolicy...

School says: Speak English


Diocese officials say the policy was created to curb bullying by a specific group of students.


The Wichita Eagle 


A Wichita Catholic school's policy requiring students to speak English during school at all times is drawing mixed reaction. The Catholic Diocese of Wichita says St. Anne Catholic School enacted the policy in response to a group of four students who were using Spanish to bully others and to put down teachers and administrators. Clara Silva, whose sixth-grade son was among the students in question, said the policy is not about language but unfair treatment. "It's an injustice," said Silva, whose son now attends another Catholic school after belonging to St. Anne since pre-kindergarten. 


Some other parents at the school disagree. "Teachers aren't able to discipline if they aren't able to understand what things are being said," said Jan Morgan, who supports the English policy and has a son in eighth grade. Silva has contacted an attorney and the Wichita branch NAACP. St. Anne, 1121 Regal, is one of 38 schools in the diocese. Its administration enacted the language policy. The diocese school policy handbook says bullying is not acceptable and suggests a range of disciplinary action that does not include restricting language. 


The language policy will not be implemented across the diocese, said Bob Voboril, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Catholic Diocese of Wichita. He added he supports St. Anne's administration's response to bullying in this case. "This is not a permanent policy," Voboril said. "It's indefinite right now at St. Anne's until they feel they've solved those issues. But there is not going to be a written policy from the diocese saying Spanish won't be spoken." 


One school's policy

The policy at St. Anne affects 243 students -- 75 are Hispanic, 27 are Asian, two are black and 139 are white. The policy was included in a Sept. 17 parent letter that mentioned homework, mid-terms and some behavior challenges including name-calling, put-downs and bullying. "We require English to be spoken during school at all times," the letter reads. "We are requesting that no native language other than English be spoken," the letter continues. "Since all subjects are taught in English they need strengthening in that area. The more students are immersed in the English language the better the chance for improvement/ success." Parents were asked to sign the letter and return it. 


On Oct. 11, Voboril issued a letter to clarify the language policy, explain the reason for it and articulate his support of the school's administration and policy. His letter, which was translated into Spanish, reads in part: "English is the language used in school, not because it is better than Spanish or Vietnamese, but because it is the language that the children must read textbooks, pass state examinations, succeed in college and be employed." 


Voboril's letter said students or families who refused to obey Sister Margaret Nugent, the school principal, or the teachers would be asked to leave St. Anne. "We don't want to prevent people from developing the language and loving it and using it," said Fred Solis, director of communications for the diocese. "The issue here was that they were making derogatory comments and using Spanish to kind of hide behind what they were doing." 


A mother's concern

Both Silva and the diocese agree the language rule is in response to a group of students speaking in Spanish, but the views differ from there. Silva, a Wichita school district social worker and active participant in the diocese Hispanic ministry, was St. Anne's parent liaison to other Hispanic families. About the time the letter went out to parents, she said, she began receiving phone calls from parents saying school staff wouldn't allow their children to speak Spanish during lunch and were keeping four students from sitting together. 

Silva said she met back and forth with school teachers, administrators and other diocese officials about the mounting concerns. "What is the message we're sending, since we have a lot of Spanish-speaking parents participating in school and church, then you're telling their kids not to speak Spanish?" Silva said of concerns she brought up. The Silvas did not sign the parent letter. In the meantime, Silva said, her son was growing more distraught about not being able to be around his bilingual friends. 


The school's response

Diocese officials said the Silvas' son speaks English as a first language, and the family was unsupportive of the school's policy. Voboril said that, to his knowledge, Silva's son had not received any disciplinarian write-ups and teahers previously praised his behavior. "We want him to succeed," Voboril said. "He's been a good student." Silva's son's last day at St. Anne was Oct. 12. 

Silva said her son was expelled. The diocese said St. Anne's administration helped Silva's son transfer to another Catholic school. Students who are expelled are prevented from enrolling in another Catholic school, according to diocese officials. Voboril said the diocese has a history of being committed to inclusiveness and cultural diversity. It does not question immigration status of its students or parishioners, he said. And the school has taught Spanish classes. 


"As people take it away from being a simple disciplinary action, it tends to harden the position of people who want to make everything into a Hispanic-rights issue or those who want to make everything as an excuse to push Hispanics away," Voboril said. "I am not on either side. 

"I'm on the side of serving as many kids in Catholic school as effectively as we can."


Policies aimed at limiting the use of non-English languages are typically about social control, said Katherine Richardson Bruna, an assistant professor of multicultural and international curriculum studies at Iowa State University. 


"Language is an expression of cultural identity," said Bruna, who researches and advocates for Mexican newcomers in Iowa. "To suppress someone's use of native language suppresses and oppresses their cultural identity." 


But Tim Schultz, director of government relations for the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. English Inc., which is pushing for English to be the country's official language, said: "If there's any thread that runs through all of these cases, and I agree that some of the policies are misguided, but I think it's the culture of blanket discipline rather than a culture of discrimination." 


Reach Christina M. Woods at 316-269-6791 or cwoods at wichitaeagle.com. 

© 2007 Wichita Eagle and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved. http://www.kansas.com <http://www.kansas.com/> 


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