The head of a group that advocates making English the official language of the United States says a Kansas high school was justified in suspending a 16-year-old student for speaking Spanish with another student in the hallway.
Junior Zach Rubio was suspended for 1½ days from Endeavor Alternative School in Kansas City for speaking Spanish, his father's native language. According to one Washington Post report, the teen says another boy asked him a question in Spanish in the school hallway during a bathroom break, and it only felt natural to Rubio to reply in the same language, which he did.
A teacher who overheard the two students' exchange in Spanish sent Rubio to the office, where school principal Jennifer Watts ordered him to call his father and prepare to leave the campus. She says this was not the first time Rubio and other students had been told not to speak Spanish at school.
When the father, Lorenzo Rubio, learned that his son was being suspended not for fighting or for behaving disrespectfully toward an adult or a fellow student, but for speaking Spanish, the parent asked to be shown a written policy the boy had violated. When Endeavor officials could not produce any such policy, the father says he then contacted Turner Unified School District, which runs the high school.
Although the school district reportedly rescinded Zach Rubio's punishment immediately, his family is nevertheless contemplating a civil lawsuit over the matter and has retained an attorney. Meanwhile, a number of civil liberties and Hispanic advocacy groups have expressed interest in and concern over the case, many convinced the teenager's civil rights were violated and demanding legal redress.
A Libertarian Party Internet “blog” notes that the high school student's father, Lorenzo Rubio a native of Vera Cruz, Mexico, and a 25-year resident of Kansas City “demonstrated a greater understanding of due process than the Endeavor Alternative School administrators.” The parent was quoted in the Washington Post as saying that, while studying for his US citizenship test, he learned “that in America, they can't punish you unless you violate a written policy.” He also said he was pursuing the issue, in part, for other Mexican families who might be afraid to speak up and say that punishing someone for speaking Spanish is wrong.
The Rubios have gained considerable support as word of the controversy has spread. However, Jim Boulet, executive director of the Virginia-based group English First, says the school did the right thing in suspending the high school student. “Let's face facts here; if the kid had been saying in Spanish, 'The bomb is around the corner,' the school would be held liable for not knowing that,” the English language advocate asserts.
English First Spokesman Says Student's Suspension Was Justified
Boulet feels the school was in a no-win situation, where if it does not stop someone from doing something bad it gets sued and if it tries to stop someone from doing something bad, it gets sued. Now, he says, as a result “we have a situation here where the [Rubio] family is all ready to file a lawsuit because the father is a new American citizen, and evidently he learned in citizenship class that whenever you're unhappy with someone, file a lawsuit.”
The National Council of La Raza, the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States, reports that 20% of the U.S. school-age population is Latino, and the native language of half of those Latino students is Spanish. La Raza's president, Janet Murguia, says a fully bilingual youth like Zach Rubio should be seen as an asset rather than punished.
The Rubio case is one that highlights the polarities of opinion on the language issue, from Hispanic advocates who argue the values of affirming multilingualism and respecting people's native language as part of their cultural heritage to English-only advocates like Boulet, who oppose bilingual education programs and push adoption of English as the “official language” of the US.
While Hispanic community advocates generally acknowledge the importance of native-Spanish-speaking students in the US who are not English proficient mastering the culture's “dominant” language as quickly as possible, many groups feel there is a civil liberties issue at stake in cases like Rubio's and are clamoring to weigh in on the debate. But Boulet believes organizations like La Raza and others taking an interest in the matter are simply looking for a payday.
“What they're saying is that [the school] violated his civil rights,” the English First spokesman says. But he contends, “You have no right to speak another language in this country. Actually, in a school or workplace setting, you have very few rights, so to speak. Your employer has rights. The school principal has rights. What we're seeing here is an attempt to cash in.”
Constitutional Expert Says First Amendment Applies
A legal expert with the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy points out, however, that the law may well be on Rubio's side. Steve Crampton, the AFA Law Center's chief counsel, says a person would be “flat wrong” to assert that individuals, including minors like Rubio, have no right to speak another language under the Constitution of the United States. In fact, the attorney suggests that anyone laboring under such a misconception “could benefit significantly from a refresher course in constitutional law.”
“The First Amendment is not language-specific,” Crampton observes. “It protects second-language citizens as fully as it does English-speaking citizens. And as the Supreme Court has often stated, students do not shed their constitutional rights at the school house gate.”
Chuck Chionuma, the Kansas City attorney who is representing the Rubios, believes it is obvious that Zach Rubio's civil rights have been violated. The family's legal counsel says they are considering what form of legal redress will correct the situation.
(This article courtesy of Agape Press.)