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Teacher is accused of racism after being caught on camera berating students for not speaking 'American' in class, telling them 'men and women are not fighting for your right to speak Spanish'

Dozens of students staged a walkout Monday morning from New Jersey’s Cliffside Park High School over a video of a teacher scolding a Spanish-speaking student to “speak American,” NorthJersey.com reported.

How did this start?

  • The video from a classroom shows the teacher saying, “… Men and women are fighting. They are not fighting for your right to speak Spanish. They are fighting for your right to speak American.”
  • A student who was in the classroom said that prior to the comment, the teacher several times asked students whispering in Spanish to stop, WPIX-TV reported.
  • The teacher was substituting in a junior- and senior-level math class, the station added, and students said she teaches English at the high school.
  • It isn’t clear when the comments were made, but a YouTube video of the incident was posted Friday:

How did students in the class react?

  • A large number of Latin American students attend the school, NorthJersey.com said, and students in the class can be heard reacting angrily to the teacher’s statement. At least one gets up and leaves the class.
  • The student who left the classroom can be heard saying, “You’re being racist. I know how to speak English,” WPIX reported.
  • During the subsequent school walkout Monday morning, some protesting students wore or waved flags — including those of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Brazil — as they gathered on the steps in front of the high school during fourth period, the NorthJersey.com added.
  • They also chanted in English and Spanish: “C.P. United” and “All Lives Matter,” the outlet said.
  • “Mostly every student here is basically from another country,” Seda Avci, a freshman, told NorthJersey.com. “So it hurts other people, knowing that they don’t want them to speak their own language.”

How did the school respond to Monday’s walkout?

  • Students told the outlet they’d been warned that walkout participants would be suspended and that some were already handed suspensions.
  • School employees took photos during the walkout, NorthJersey.com added.
  • A fire alarm sounded around 11:30 a.m., the outlet reported, and the resulting evacuation broke up most of the protesters. Others continued chanting and waving their nationalities’ flags, however, NorthJersey.com said.
  • The school board is holding a special closed-session meeting Monday night with no public portion, school officials told the outlet. Superintendent Michael Romagnini declined to comment, saying the issue was a personnel matter, NorthJersey.com reported.

What are students and others saying in opposition to the teacher?

  • Alana Lopez, a freshman, told WPIX the teacher should resign over her words: “It’s really disrespectful. That’s not right. You don’t do that.”
  • One student said to the station that the teacher previously has warned students in the hallways to refrain from speaking Spanish.
  • Some who used to attend the high school called for the school board to investigate the “discriminatory” behavior and the “belittling” of a bilingual student, WPIX said.
  • Rene Lavergneau — a Cliffside Park resident and former coordinator of foreign languages, bilingual education and English as a second language for Hackensack Public Schools — told NorthJersey.com that the teacher’s words were “deplorable.”
  • “That a teacher should say something of that nature to a student — who’s here to really get an education, who’s here because this is a land of opportunity,” he added to the outlet. “People don’t come to this country to fail, they come to succeed, and they should be encouraged to do their most and best at all times… Speaking Spanish is an asset, and should be seen as one.”

What are others saying in support of the teacher?

  • Others defended the teacher as a “great person” and a “wonderful teacher,” WPIX added.
  • Some also said English should be spoken in a class taught in English out of respect for the teacher, the station reported.
  • “I think what she said was wrong, definitely,” sophomore Patrick Martinez told the NorthJersey.com. “But I also think the school should give a chance to hear her out, people should try to talk to her. Even though what she said was wrong, it was in the heat of the moment.”

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