Thursday, December 15, 2005
NO SPANISH ALLOWED
The father of a boy suspended for speaking Spanish in school has sued the school district and its officials for violating his son's civil rights. Lorenzo Rubio filed the lawsuit in federal court in Kansas City, Kan., on behalf of his son, Zachariah.
Rubio says that his son’s civil rights were violated when he was suspended in late November. Rubio seeks an unspecified amount in actual and punitive damages. Among other things, he also seeks an order to prevent the school district and staff from discriminating against children on the basis of their race and national origin.
Rubio named as defendants the school district; Superintendent Bobby Allen; Endeavor Alternative School Principal Jennifer Watts; and Endeavor teacher Susan Serzyski and five other unnamed teachers.
Rubio also named as defendants the Turner school board.
Zachariah is a student at Endeavor High School, an alternative program in the Kansas City-Turner School District. He was suspended in late November for speaking Spanish during lunch and later outside of class with a friend.
Zach and a friend were told not to speak Spanish in the lunch area. As he left to go to his class, he started speaking Spanish again to his friend and was told again not to speak Spanish on the way to class. About 45 minutes later, he was sent back to the office by his teacher for speaking Spanish to a classmate in a classroom. Zach was then told to call his father because he was suspended from school for the rest of the day and the next. A "reasonable" request to not speak Spanish at school, signed by Jennifer Watts, the principal of the school, was written on a disciplinary referral. In addition to the reason for suspension, Watts also wrote, "This is not the first time we have asked Zach and others to not speak Spanish at school."
The elder Rubio told the Kansas City Kansan after the incident occured his son had called him and told him he’d been suspended for speaking Spanish. "I could not believe it. I went to the school and spoke to Mrs. (Jennifer) Watts and asked her if this was school policy. She told me, 'no,' but said 'We are not in Mexico, we are not in Germany.'"
"If they did this to my son, who knows his rights, then how many kids has she mistreated in this manner, who are afraid to stand up?" he asked.
Zach, a junior at the Endeaver School, is American born and proficient in English and Spanish. He said he often speaks Spanish to his friends, in his home when they come over to play video games, at the mall, and places outside of school.
"It's just natural for me to speak to them in Spanish," Zach said. "Some of them don't speak English that well, and it is easier for them. Sometimes I just talk to them and I don't think about what language I am speaking. Sometimes it just comes out. My friend was going on a job interview that day and we were talking about that when (Watts) told us not to speak Spanish. I was trying to be nice to her. I asked her why she did not want me to speak Spanish and she got mad. She said 'I don't want to hear it in my building.' My friend then asked me for a dollar in Spanish and she started yelling at me. I have heard her tell other Spanish-speaking people the same thing."
Rubio's daughter, Sara, a ninth grade student at Turner High School, said that Spanish is taught at the school. Sara said she would like to go into law enforcement or social work, two fields that are seeking to recruit bilingual personnel. "At Turner, they don't let us speak Spanish," Sara said. She has heard other students being told the same thing that happened to her brother, she said.
"My son did not fight with anyone; he did not offend anyone," Rubio said. "Enough is enough. Watts is still there and she got her way when my son lost two days of school. My son worked hard to learn Spanish. How can she say she does not want him to speak Spanish? Some of the students are afraid and they take this abuse. She picked on the wrong Spanish-speaking family. She told me, 'in my building I do not allow Spanish.' This is a slap in the face to us."
Zach was reinstated after the incident became widely publicized.
Kansas City lawyer Chuck Chionuma, who is representing the Rubios, said Zachariah Rubio’s constitutional rights under federal and state laws were violated when he was suspended.
“Zach was punished for being Hispanic,” Chionuma told the Kansas City Star. “He was suspended from school and lost two days of his education. His only offense was being Hispanic and speaking his native language.”
“I think that is very reprehensible and should not be tolerated at all,” Chionuma said. “Clearly she was in violation of both state and federal laws that prohibit discrimination.”
Chionuma said it was not the first instance in which a Hispanic student had been disciplined for speaking Spanish in a Turner district school. Other students, he said, had kept quite because of the immigration status of family members.
He also said the Rubios decided to pursue the lawsuit to make sure that other students were not discriminated against.
“It should not be tolerated at all,” Chionuma said. Sources: Hispanic Business.com, Latino Pundit, Kansas City Kansan, WIBW (Topeka), Kansas City Star