Kansas: School says: Speak English. Diocese officials say the policy was created to curb bullying by a specific group of students.
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Oct 21, 2007
Posted on Sat, Oct. 20, 2007
School says: Speak English Diocese officials say the policy was created to
curb bullying by a specific group of students.BY CHRISTINA M. WOODS
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
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
*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
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
"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
Reach Christina M. Woods at 316-269-6791 or cwoods at wichitaeagle.com.
(c) 2007 Wichita Eagle and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.
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