Original URL:  http://www.azstarnet.com/star/today/30214AMPHILETTER.html

Letter about disruptions upsets students, parents
Those who speak Spanish called targets

By Jonathan J. Higuera
Feb. 14, 2003

A letter to parents from Amphitheater High School officials has sparked the ire of some students and parents who feel school officials are trying to discourage them from speaking Spanish in class and singling out Spanish-speaking students.

The form letter, which was not dated or signed but apparently sent two weeks ago, said Spanish-speaking students were being "disruptive" by using profanities in Spanish in classes with non-Spanish speaking teachers and speaking "excessively" in Spanish during class instruction.

Parents were asked to sign the letter and send it back.

Student Natalia Dabdoub said a teacher assigned detention to students caught speaking Spanish in class.

"I had one friend who was suspended because he refused to show up to detention for speaking Spanish," said Dabdoub, a junior who initiated her own probe of the school's policies for a journalism class.

School officials deny the letter was intended to discourage students from speaking Spanish, but was sent only because teachers were complaining of disruptive Spanish-speaking students.

"Nobody's been given detention for speaking Spanish in class," Amphi Principal Patsy Harris said. "They've been given detention for being a disruption in class."

The letters were sent to students in the Sheltered English Immersion Program, which handles students with little or no English-language skills. About 500 of the school's 1,600 students grew up speaking a foreign language, but not all are in the sheltered English program, school officials said.

Carla García, who heads the school's Sheltered English Immersion Department and supports the letter, said it was not related to Proposition 203, the state law forbidding classroom instruction in Spanish. But it was a way of letting Spanish-speaking students know they were out of line.

"The point is our students didn't demonstrate that they understood that a disruption is a disruption regardless of what language they are using," she said.

Non-Spanish-speaking teachers knew students were using profanities because other bilingual teachers, students, tutors and others told them, García said. Students are not prohibited from speaking Spanish other outside the classroom, or even inside the classroom, school officials said.

"If the teacher and the class are doing an activity, it's not the time to give your neighbor instruction in Spanish," Harris said.

But some experts who work with limited English proficient children questioned whether the form letter should have been sent.

"Because we mix students indiscriminately - from those who speak little or no English to full English speakers - it's difficult to know when there is an authentic disruption and when someone is helping someone else by translating," said Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith, a University of Arizona professor in the Mexican-American studies department. "That's not acceptable to make such as blanket accusation of

"If we are not going to have bilingual education, there have to be ways to have acceptable translations," she added.

Several students said they were unaware of the issue but didn't know of any particular problems caused by Spanish-speaking students.

"I have a guitar class with a lot of Spanish-speaking kids and I haven't witnessed any disruptions other than the instructor having to repeat what he says," said Matt Graham, a senior. "English-speaking kids can be disruptive too and I didn't get a letter."

Senior Krisi Geier hasn't noticed any disruption problems among Spanish-speakers but said she understands their frustrations about not being able to communicate in English.

"For those who only speak Spanish, it can be frustrating," she said.

Dabdoub said the problems stems from the lack of teachers who speak Spanish.

"Because they don't know what they are saying, they assume they are using profanities," she said. "There is no other language that these kids can communicate in with the teacher or other students.

A parent whose children attend Amphitheater School District Schools, said teachers have a right to maintain control of their classrooms but would have a preferred a letter sent to all disruptive students.

"They are kids and kids can be excessive no matter what language," said Diana Boros.

* Contact reporter Jonathan J. Higuera at 573-4104 or at higuera@azstarnet.com.