Right-Wing Media Seize On Principal's Spanish-Speaking Ban To Promote Discriminatory English-Only Policies

Right-wing media stoked fears that the English language will soon disappear based on the decision by a Texas county school board not to renew the contract of a principal who reportedly mandated an English-only policy on campus. In fact, English-only policies have been found to discriminate against Latino immigrants and they fail to take into account that the majority of Latino immigrants speak fluent English.

Local Texas School Board Votes Not To Renew Contract Of Principal Who Issued English-Only Policy

Hempstead School Board Voted Not To Renew Contract Of School Principal Who Reportedly Told Kids Not To Speak Spanish. As the Houston Chronicle reported, the Hempstead, TX school board voted on March 18 not to renew the contract of Hempstead Middle School principal Amy Lacey, “who instructed her students not to speak Spanish, in a rapidly-evolving district where more than half of the students, like many Texas schools, are now Hispanic.” The article further reported:

Hempstead Middle School Principal Amy Lacey was placed on paid administrative leave in December after reportedly announcing, via intercom, that students were not to speak Spanish on the school's campus. The Hispanic population of the rural area, roughly 50 miles northwest of Houston, is growing quickly, and Latino advocates say that it's important to allow Spanish in public schools.


Civil rights advocates say Lacey's suspension may have set off a campaign to intimidate Hispanics, including the district's superintendent, Delma Flores-Smith. They are calling for the Department of Justice and the FBI to investigate possible civil rights violations. An FBI spokesman would not confirm an investigation. [Houston Chronicle3/18/14]

KHOU: “Hempstead Students Say Principal Tried To Ban Them From Speaking Spanish.” According to a December 2013 report by KHOU 11 News, Hempstead Middle School students “said Principal Amy Lacey told kids over the intercom that they could no longer speak Spanish while in class.” KHOU added:

According to students, Lacey made the announcement back on Nov. 12. It took more than two weeks for a letter to be sent home by the superintendent.

The letter that went home on Dec. 2 stated that “neither the district or any campus has any policy prohibiting the speaking of Spanish.”

“People don't want to speak it no more, and they don't want to get caught speaking it because they're going to get in trouble,” said sixth-grade student Kiara Lozano.

A number of students believe the principal's announcement has given some teachers and fellow classmates a hall pass to discriminate. [KHOU 11 News in Houston, TX, 12/2/13]

NBC Latino: Hempstead ISD “Does Not Have A Policy Prohibiting The Use Of Spanish Or Any Other Language At School. NBC Latino reported that the Hempstead school district denied in a statement that the district has an English-only policy, stating: ”Hempstead ISD or any individual campus does not have a policy prohibiting the use of Spanish or any other language at school." From the district's statement:

As always, it is our mission at Hempstead ISD to ensure that our students enjoy a safe and secure learning environment. We are creating a culture of excellence at Hempstead by giving our students the best customer service possible. We have high expectations for our students and we are holding our administrators, teachers and support staff to high expectations and standards as well.

Hempstead ISD or any individual campus does not have a policy prohibiting the use of Spanish or any other language at school. We are continuing to “Create a Culture of Excellence” which includes embracing ALL students of all cultural and diverse backgrounds. Our priorities are our students. [NBC Latino, 12/4/13]

Right-Wing Media Responded With Vitriol, Claiming English Language Will Disappear

Laura Ingraham: “Is It Just A Matter Of Time Before English Is Officially Not The Language Of The United States? Discussing the school district's decision not to renew the principal's contract, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham claimed on her radio show that the decision means it's “just a matter of time before English is officially not the language of the United States”:

INGRAHAM: Is it just a matter of time before English is officially not the language of the United States? Maybe we don't declare it as such, but in practice it really isn't the official language any longer. Because to even say official language, that's discriminatory or that's passing judgment on other languages. [Courtside Entertainment Group, The Laura Ingraham Show3/20/14]

Ingraham: “A Lot Of These Kids Are Probably Illegal Aliens In This School, I Would Imagine.” In another rant about the decision, Ingraham claimed that the students “are probably illegal aliens,” even though the school has not discussed the students' immigration status. She went on to say that the district is “giving these kids a sense that they don't have to speak English to get ahead” and that letting the students speak Spanish hurts assimilation:

INGRAHAM: You're not helping these kids, right, by giving these kids a sense that they don't have to speak English to get ahead. You do have to speak English to get ahead. You do have to speak English to assimilate. Now a lot of these kids are probably illegal aliens in this school, I would imagine. Right? Maybe some of them have parents who are illegal aliens, and so they have that kind of situation they're dealing with. But the idea that you're helping these kids by enabling them to cling to their old language in public, in the workplace, in schools, you're not helping them. You're actually hurting them.

And liberalism usually does this to people that they claim they're helping. They end up making them more dependent, less able to be in the workforce and productive, and this is ultimately very destructive to state economies, school discipline, the ultimate goal of assimilation, how the English-speaking kids will deal with the Spanish-speaking kids. English should be given a preeminent position in our public schools. [Courtside Entertainment Group, The Laura Ingraham Show3/20/14]

Ingraham Attacked Activists Who Protested Principal's English-Only Policy. On her radio show, Ingraham mocked activists' calls for the FBI and the Justice Department to investigate the incident, saying, “See, it's a violation of individual civil rights to expect them to assimilate today. That's a violation of your rights.” She went on to attack the activists, stating:

INGRAHAM: These are people who believe that they have the wind at their backs, they have the president's imprimatur, they have the attorney general behind them, and they're going to get everything that they can get and if you so much as get in their way, just make it even one iota more difficult for them to run roughshod over our tradition, over our language, then they will try to destroy you." [Courtside Entertainment Group, The Laura Ingraham Show3/20/14]

Mark Levin: “We're Going To Have School Systems Where Spanish Is The Primary Language.” On his radio show, Mark Levin claimed that the school board's decision shows that “We're going to have school systems where Spanish is the primary language”:

LEVIN: You see the balkanization that's going on? We're going to have school systems where Spanish is the primary language because the demographic in those particular districts are rapidly evolving, becoming more Hispanic. Or whatever they're becoming. Is that what we want in this country? Is that what we mean by assimilation? [Cumulus Media Networks, The Mark Levin Show3/19/14]

The Drudge Report: “Principal Fired Over 'Speak English.' ” The Drudge Report linked to the Houston Chronicle article on the Hempstead school board decision using the headline, “Principal Fired Over 'Speak English.' ” An earlier headline read: “Principal Loses Job For Instructing Students To Speak English”:

[Drudge Report, 3/19/143/19/14]

In Fact, English-Only Policies Are Discriminatory And Often Unlawful

Forbes: “English-Only Policies Are Unlawful If Adopted For A Discriminatory Purpose.” As Forbes contributor and labor law expert Richard Tuschman noted, “English-only policies are unlawful if adopted for a discriminatory purpose or if applied to one minority group but not another.” He continued:

In addition, even if an English-only policy is adopted for nondiscriminatory reasons and applied uniformly, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and some courts take the position that such rules burden national origin minorities because they prevent many members of these groups from speaking the language in which they are best able to communicate.  According to this view, English-only rules may only be justified by “business necessity.”  While some courts have adopted a less stringent standard, the safe approach for employers is to either refrain from adopting an English-only policy, or ensure that it is justified by business necessity.


Even if justified by business necessity in these situations, an English-only policy should not be applied to casual conversations between employees when they are not performing job duties.

And make no mistake; employers with English-only policies that do not pass legal muster are likely to find themselves in the cross-hairs of the EEOC. [Forbes11/15/12]

DOJ: “Prejudice And Xenophobia ... May Be Triggered When A Person Speaks A Language Other Than English.” In the Department of Justice's policy guideline outlining how federal agencies should enforce Title VI, the law that prohibits language discrimination based on national origin for recipients of federal funds, DOJ explained that while “there is not always a direct relationship between an individual's language and national origin, often language does serve as an identifier of national origin.” DOJ continued:

The same sort of prejudice and xenophobia that may be at the root of discrimination against persons from other nations may be triggered when a person speaks a language other than English.

Language elicits a response from others, ranging from admiration and respect, to distance and alienation, to ridicule and scorn. Reactions of the latter type all too often result from or initiate racial hostility * * *. It may well be, for certain ethnic groups and in some communities, that proficiency in a particular language, like skin color, should be treated as a surrogate for race under an equal protection analysis.

While Title VI itself prohibits only intentional discrimination on the basis of national origin, the Supreme Court has consistently upheld agency regulations prohibiting unjustified discriminatory effects. [Federal Register, Department of Justice, 8/16/00]

U.S. Commission On Civil Rights: " 'English Only' Policies Frequently Violate The Law." In a briefing report on English-Only policies, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights noted that according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, " 'English Only' policies frequently violate the law." CCR continued:

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of national origin. Employers may (and frequently do) insist that an employee be proficient in English or in some other particular language, but under Title VII they cannot insist that these employees be native speakers. The EEOC takes the position that employers whose workforce includes employees who are not native English speakers cannot specify English as the common workplace language without potentially violating Title VII. [U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 7/20/11]

American Psychological Association: “The English-Only Movement Promotes Racist And Anti-Immigration Sentiments.” In a 1991 study, “The English-Only Movement: Myths, Reality and Implications for Psychology,” the American Psychological Association concluded that the “English-only movement is socially divisive and poses a threat to the human welfare that psychologists espouse in the Ethical Principles of Psychologists.” APA further stated that “the leadership of the English-only movement promotes racist and anti-immigration sentiments and that most likely these elements motivate, at least in part, supporters of English-only initiatives” and that “intergroup cooperation can be developed in an atmosphere that fosters linguistic pluralism.” APA went on to say that “positive self and ethnic identification occurs when children are allowed access to both their heritage language and English. [American Psychological Association, February 1991]

Comprehensive Study Found That English-Only School Policies Fail Students. According to a University of California review of “Forbidden Language: English Learners and Restrictive Language Policies” -- a comprehensive study that examined English-only policies in public education in California, Arizona, and Massachusetts -- the study found that “these policies may be more related to immigration politics than to best practices for educating English learners.” It also found that “the facts do not bear ... out” conservatives' claims that English-only instruction is superior to bilingual education:

Forbidden Language asserts that the promise that restrictive language policies made - that English learners would close the achievement gaps with English speaking students and more rapidly acquire English - have not been realized. Moreover, the studies suggest that such policies may violate English learners' right to an education equivalent to that of their English-speaking peers as mandated by the Equal Educational Opportunity Act (EEOA).


UCLA Professor Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project and a contributor to Forbidden Language stated, “The book ends not with a call to return to the good ole' days but challenges policy makers to adopt a new, more expansive and more enriching vision that builds on the resources that these children of immigrants bring. It is time that the U.S. join the rest of the developed world in viewing bilingualism as an asset, not a deficit.” [University of California, accessed 3/20/14]

It's False To Claim That Immigrants Aren't Assimilating Or Don't Speak English

TAP: Studies Show That “Across Time, Linguistic Assimilation Takes Care Of Itself.” The American Prospect noted in an article highlighting the English-speaking provision in the 2013 Senate comprehensive immigration reform proposal that the “current crop of immigrants is not resisting learning English” and argued that it's a myth to claim otherwise:

First, let's dispel a myth: The current crop of immigrants is not resisting learning English. Today's immigrants from Asia and Latin America are following exactly the same pattern of linguistic assimilation as their predecessors from Northern and Southern Europe, and at a comparable rate: Their children tend to be bilingual, and the third generation produces largely monolingual English speakers. In other words, across time, linguistic assimilation takes care of itself. This is by virtue of the fact that children under the age of seven--the “critical period” for language acquisition--will absorb English simply by being exposed to it. Take a newborn from rural China and raise her in America, and she will grow up to be a native English speaker. [The American Prospect6/19/13]

Wash. Post: “It Just Isn't So” That Latino Immigrants Are Slow To Assimilate. Citing a number of studies on assimilation, the Washington Post's Wonkblog explained that “it just isn't so” that Latino immigrants are slow to assimilate:

In 2007, the political scientists Jack Citrin, Amy Lerman, Michael Murakami and Kathryn Pearson decided to test Huntington's theory against the available evidence about Latino assimilation. They found no evidence whatsoever that Mexican and other Latin American immigrants are assimilating more slowly than did previous waves of immigrants.

Take language acquisition: Contrary to popular belief and Adam Sandler films, Latino immigrants acquire English as quickly as, or more quickly than, Asian and European immigrants. Although Mexican immigrants lagged behind on language acquisition in 1980, the gap was closed by 2000, the researchers found.

First-generation Mexican immigrants still lag behind on learning English, but second-generation Americans, including those who live with their first-generation parents, acquire English just as fast as do Asian or European immigrants. (Non-Latino second-generation immigrants acquire English even faster. Filipino immigrants beat everyone, perhaps owing to the Philippines' half-century under U.S. sovereignty.) [The Washington Post, Wonkblog, 1/28/13]

Pew Research Center: 92 Percent Of Second-Generation Hispanics Are Fluent In English. A 2012 study by the Pew Research Center found that a clear majority of second- and third-generation Latino immigrants speak English fluently:

According to the Pew Hispanic survey, more than six-in-ten (61%) Latino adults in the U.S. say they can carry on a conversation in English “very well” or “pretty well.” A similar share (60%) say they can read a newspaper or book in English “very well” or “pretty well.”

As expected, English language proficiency differs by nativity. Among the foreign born or first-generation Hispanics, 38% say they can carry on a conversation in English and 37% say they can read a newspaper or book in English “very well” or “pretty well.” English proficiency is higher among Hispanics who were born in the U.S. Fully 92% of Hispanics in the second generation say they are proficient when it comes to speaking English. Likewise, 91% say they can read a newspaper or book “very well” or “pretty well” in English. Among third-generation Hispanics, 96% say they are proficient in speaking English, and 94% say they can read a newspaper or book in English “very well” or “pretty well.” [Pew Research Center, 4/4/12]