Several students from Cliffside Park High School in New Jersey staged a walkout this past Monday after cellphone footage surfaced of a teacher reprimanding students for speaking Spanish. In the recording, she can be heard telling them that U.S. soldiers are “not fighting for your right to speak Spanish – they’re fighting for your right to speak American.”
The video was originally posted on Snapchat. One of the students was Vianery Cabrera, 16, who has attended Cliffside Park High School since she came to the United States from Colombia three years ago. According to her, she was speaking to her friends in class before the teacher began reprimanding them.
Cabrera said, “We were speaking about the Yankees.” The students were discussing the New York baseball team in Spanish. She explains, “…that’s how we feel more comfortable.” The teacher who is normally an English teacher, but was substituting that day for an algebra class heard the students and began ranting that they must speak “American” in the classroom.
Cabrera discussed the incident stating, “I laughed, because, first of all, [American] is not a language.” She added, “I have the right to speak Spanish. I have the right to speak English. I have the right to speak whatever language I speak, and that’s my right. There’s no law that says that I should or I must speak English.”
Nearly 100 students were reported walking out of school on Monday, even though the principal made it clear that those who walk out will face disciplinary action. After someone pulled a fire alarm at around 11 a.m., the entire student body, composed of around 1,110 students walked out.
According to the local school board’s 2016 statistics, almost half of the student body, 49.7 percent, reported speaking Spanish at home, while 62 percent identified as Hispanic or Latino. Only 32 percent of students reported that they speak English at home.
Vianery states, “She [the teacher] said if I wanted to speak Spanish to do it in my Spanish class […] It hurt because I came to this country to accomplish my dreams, and to hear that – it’s not fair.” The high school says that it is aware of the incident and is working with several students involved, but declined multiple requests for comment. The Cliffside Park School District had no comment.
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