Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Principal Fired for Spanish Comment Speaks Out

A Texas middle school principal who allegedly went on the school intercom system last school year to urge students not to speak Spanish and was subsequently fired, is defending her actions.

Former Hempstead Middle School principal Amy Lacey wrote a letter to the Houston Chronicle this week about the incident.

Hempstead is a part of the Houston metropolitan area. The school district has 1,525 students, of which about 54 percent were Latino in the 2012-13 school year. About 21 percent of students were classified English language learners.

Lacey stated that she went on the intercom system at the majority Latino school to emphasize that the state academic language is English per the Texas Education Code, and so are the state exams. She also stated that Hempstead offered ESL classes on campus.

“I informed students it would be best to speak English in the classrooms to the extent possible in order to help prepare them for these tests,” she wrote.

Lacey stated that she never banned the use of Spanish. She defended her actions by saying that teachers who told students to stop talking during class often responded by saying they had the right to speak Spanish, when they should not speak in class at all.

“The perception of the teachers was that students were being disrespectful and disrupting learning, and they believed they could get away with it by claiming racism,” Lacey wrote.

This situation highlights an ongoing tension for educators. Schools want to increase English proficiency among English language learners. But they also want to be culturally sensitive.

Is there a proper, tactful way to encourage students to use English without offending? This is a thorny issue for teachers in settings with large numbers of students who  speak languages other than English.