Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Complaint against N.C. District Illustrates Larger Challenges

A teacher allegedly pushes a student against a wall and says, “Go back to your country.” Interpreters are not available for Spanish-speaking parents. Students are asked to provide immigration documents. Reports of Latino students being singled out or harassed circulate through the district.

Those were a few of the incidents that led to a civil rights complaint against the Durham Public Schools. According to the April complaint filed by the Southern Poverty Law  Center, the North Carolina school district created a “hostile environment” for Latino students.

Last week, Fox News Latino and the Durham Herald-Sun reported that the school district has agreed to change its practices, strengthen antidiscrimination policies and provide better training to prevent such incidents in the future. The district, where Latinos make up about 21 percent of its 32,566 students, has already added information in Spanish on its website and translated some documents and notifications into Spanish.

Jerri Katzerman, the SPLC’s deputy legal director told the Herald-Sun that the agreement  ”will mean that Latino students and parents will see an immediate improvement in their ability to connect and communicate with the school system. In the long term, it’s a commitment from Durham Public Schools to create a welcoming environment for all children.”

The case illustrates the challenges facing school districts as they adapt to changing demographics and a growing Latino student population. For education reporters, it also offers several areas to examine in covering local school districts:

  • Does your school district have enough interpreters for non-English-speaking parents? Do they use students as interpreters or go-betweens? The  SPLC complaint claimed that the Durham School District had only three Spanish-language interpreters for more than 5,300 students and their parents. Often, the complaint said, schools asked students to step in as translators.
  • Do schools in your districts translate documents, school information and other notifications? Or do Spanish-speaking parents feel isolated or ignored when it comes to invitations about open houses or information regarding classroom policies and events, as parents in the Durham schools felt?
  • Do the districts you cover offer cultural awareness training for teachers, administrators and other staff members? How do they handle incidents such as those reported in Durham where Latino students felt “singled out, unwanted and, in some extreme situations, harassed”?