A large group of students walked out of their public high school on Monday to protest a teacher who told a student that he should “speak American.”
The walkout occurred at Cliffside Park High School in the working-class sprawl of New Jersey, reports The Bergen Record.
A brief video clip appeared on social media on Friday which showed the unidentified teacher making the statements via stealth camera footage.
“Men and women are fighting. They are not fighting for your right to speak Spanish. They are fighting for your right to speak American,” the teacher says.
It’s hard to hear any of the individual statements after that point. There’s a lot of hubbub.
“You’re being racist,” that student responded, according to New York City television station WPIX.
“I know how to speak English,” he also reportedly said.
Tumult quickly followed after video of the incident went viral.
Critics of the teacher want the local school board to investigate. They say the teacher belittled and discriminated against the student.
“You go to school to learn, you don’t go to feel attacked by someone you believe is an educator,” Cliffside Park High alumnus Marvin Moreno told WPIX.
Another local faction has defended the unnamed teacher, saying that English is the lingua franca — as it were — of the classroom and students should speak English out of respect for the teacher.
Monday’s fourth period walkout at the taxpayer-funded high school featured students waving flags from several places including Puerto Rico, Brazil and the Dominican Republic. Participating students chanted — in both English and Spanish. “All lives matter” was one of the chants.
Fire alarms go off, more students pour out of school, some waving flags pic.twitter.com/67wwMZEUuF
— Mike Curley, Jr. (@MWCurleyJr) October 16, 2017
“Mostly every student here is basically from another country,” freshman Seda Avci told the Record. “So it hurts other people, knowing that they don’t want them to speak their own language.”
An older, wiser sophomore, Patrick Martinez, suggested that the matter could probably be resolved amicably.
“I think what she said was wrong, definitely,” Martinez told the newspaper. “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.”
The borough of Cliffside Park is about 29 percent Hispanic, according to recent census figures. (The population is 25,503.)
School officials told students that they would face suspensions for participating in the walkout. Employees at the school recorded the walkout to identify participants.
Cliffside Park School District board members convened for a special meeting on Monday night concerning the teacher’s statement and the subsequent walkout.
Superintendent Michael Romagnino would not disclose whether students would face suspensions.
“Parents can be assured that we’re addressing it,” Romagnino said, according to the Record.
The teacher who made the comments was a substitute in an upper-level math class at the time. She also teaches English, students told WPIX.