New Jersey: "English Only" Contract Stirs Controversy at N.J. School

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Fri Feb 6 15:43:57 UTC 2009

"English Only" Contract Stirs Controversy at N.J. School

Updated 6:50 PM EST, Thu, Feb 5, 2009

some students were reportedly given an Classroom Protocol Contract
last school year. No gum chewing, no cursing, no interrupting the
teacher. They are rules you'd find at almost any school. But, one
unofficial guideline has caused a stir at Vineland High School North
-- the rule that said any language other than English was not allowed.
"I don't really like that because there's lots of other languages
besides English and the United States is integrated with every
different language," student Tara Fyan said outside the school
Thursday afternoon.

Unbeknown to school officials, the "Classroom Protocol Contract" was
handed out last school year by a substitute teacher, said officials in
the racially diverse Vineland School District. She filled in for six
weeks in a special education math class, according to officials.

An unofficial policy stating that students must speak English has
people steamed including the ACLU. "This is an English speaking school
and classroom -- any other [sic] language other than English will not
be tolerated," the document states. It also informs students that they
had to sign the paper -- that their signatures would count as a test
grade. "It is direct opposite, [a] direct violation to what we really
stand for as a district," Vineland Superintendent of Schools Charles
Ottinger told NBC 10 News Thursday.

It was actually the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey that
first caught wind of the contract, said Ottinger. The ACLU then fired
off a letter to Ottinger, reminding the school district that
English-only policies are illegal. The letter also asked that all such
policies be rescinded.

"We don't condone it and we have no such policy," said Ottinger.

School officials received no prior complaints from parents or
students, said officials. In fact, they said they had no idea about
the "contract" until Wednesday, when they were shocked by the arrival
of the ACLU's letter.  "We're really surprised to hear that we had
something like that going on," Ottinger said. Criticism of the
unofficial policy quickly spread through Vineland.

"I find it very offensive," said Jennifer Rivera of ASPIRA Inc. of New
Jersey, a non-profit organization that provides services to the city's
large Hispanic community, including Vineland High School students.
"It's unfair and a lot of these students are just beginning to learn
how to speak English," said Rivera, herself a Vineland High School
graduate. But other Vineland residents interviewed by NBC 10 sided
with the teacher. "We do live in the United States of America and we
should be speaking English in school. What you do at home is your own
business," said Helen Tassakis.

"I don't see anything wrong with that. If we were in other countries,
I'm sure they would require us to speak their language," resident
Cheryl Hobbs said. A woman at the teacher's home Thursday said she had
no comment and abruptly shut the front door. School district officials
said they have not been able to reach the teacher either, but added
that she has not taught at all in any Vineland public school this
school year.

Administrators are now doing a district-wide investigation to make
sure no other unofficial language policies are or were in place, said
officials. "We're taking immediate action to make sure it doesn't
continue," Ottinger said.

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