Catholic school feels heat for 'English only' policy

Francis Hult francis.hult at UTSA.EDU
Thu Oct 25 21:07:37 UTC 2007

Via lgpolicy...


Catholic school feels heat for 'English only' policy


Associated Press

October 21, 2007


Wichita - Officials at St. Anne Catholic School here have gotten mixed reactions to their decision to require students to speak only in English while at school. The Catholic Diocese of Wichita says the school enacted the policy to deal with Spanish-speaking students who were using their native language to bully other children or insult teachers and administrators without their knowledge. But some parents have complained about the policy, saying St. Anne is discriminating against Spanish speakers. 


"It's an injustice," said Clara Silva, whose sixth-grade son now attends another Catholic school after attending St. Anne since pre-kindergarten. Silva said she has contacted an attorney and the Wichita branch of the NAACP. Jan Morgan, who has a son in eighth grade at the school, said she supports the policy. "Teachers aren't able to discipline if they aren't able to understand what things are being said," Morgan said. 


Administrators at the school, one of 38 in the diocese, enacted the policy themselves. While the diocese school policy handbook forbids bullying and recommends a range of disciplinary actions, restricting language is not one of them. Bob Voboril, the diocese's school superintendent, said the policy is limited to St. Anne but he said he supported the school's decision. "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." 

Of St. Anne's 243 students, 75 are Hispanic, 27 are Asian and two are black. 


Administrators first laid out the policy in a letter to parents on Sept. 17 that also dealt with homework, midterm exams and some behavior problems. "We are requesting that no native language other than English be spoken," read the letter that parents were required to sign. "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." Voboril sent out a second letter on Oct. 11 seeking to clarify the language policy, explain the reason for it and express his support for it. 


"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 (use to) read textbooks, pass state examinations, succeed in college and be employed," read the letter, which was translated into Spanish. 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. She said that about the time the first letter went out, she began getting calls from other parents saying their children weren't being allowed to speak Spanish at lunch and that four students were being prevented from sitting together. 

She said she met with teachers, administrators and diocese officials about the 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?" she said. The Silvas didn't sign the letter and claim their son was expelled. Diocese officials disagree, saying they helped Silva find a new school for her son and diocese policy prohibits expelled students from enrolling in other Catholic schools. 


Voboril added that, to his knowledge, Silva's son hadn't received any disciplinary action and teachers praised his behavior. He also noted that the diocese has a history of inclusion and diversity and doesn't question students or parishioners about their legal status. "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," he said. "I am not on either side." 


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