Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/1018Spanishdos0.html

East Valley tech school may face civil-rights complaint
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 18, 2003
Mel MelÚndez
 12:00 AM

An East Valley technical school's decision to prohibit students from speaking Spanish in class has drawn the ire of a Latino civil-rights group, which plans to file a federal complaint over the incident.

"This speaks of the days when Hispanic kids were hit and punished for speaking Spanish," said Silverio Garcia Jr., education chairman for the Arizona League of United Latin American Citizens. "It's an attempt to deny one's culture, which is not acceptable."

Garcia plans to meet today with the students and their parents. His organization will likely file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, which can withhold federal funding from schools found guilty of civil-rights violations.

Earlier this month, East Valley Institute of Technology officials told four cosmetology students not to speak Spanish during class, citing Arizona's English-immersion law to back their stance. But one of the students, Patricia Otero, 16, is fighting the school, saying the order violates students' rights.

Officials at the Mesa school say they encourage students to use Spanish outside of the classroom. But English is required in class to avoid potential conflicts or misinterpretations between students, the teacher and clients, said Principal Janet Cox.

"We serve customers during class hours," she said. "We don't want them thinking that the students are speaking about them. It's a common-courtesy thing."

Proposition 203, which voters approved in 2000, states that all instruction needs to be in "Structured English Immersion." But teachers can use a student's native language to clarify terms. The law does not address the languages students can speak.

The Arizona Attorney General's Office is also reviewing the facts to see if the incident warrants a civil rights investigation, said spokeswoman Dianna Jennings. She declined to discuss what actions would be taken.

"It really depends on what goes down, on the type of infractions, if any, that we uncover," she said. "Right now we're just fact-gathering."

Otero, who is bilingual, said she supports English-immersion instruction.

"But that has nothing to do with what I want to use when I speak to my friends," she said. "I love Spanish. It's my first language. I don't plan to give it up."

Reach the reporter at mel. melendez@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-7758