“English Only” Contract Stirs Controversy at N.J. School

No gum chewing, no cursing, no interrupting the teacher.

They are rules you’d find at almost any school. But, one unofficial guideline has caused a stir at Vineland High School North -- the rule that said any language other than English was not allowed.

“I don’t really like that because there’s lots of other languages besides English and the United States is integrated with every different language,” student Tara Fyan said outside the school Thursday afternoon.

Unbeknown to school officials, the “Classroom Protocol Contract” was handed out last school year by a substitute teacher, said officials in the racially-diverse Vineland School District. She filled in for six weeks in a special education math class, according to officials.

“This is an English speaking school and classroom -- any other [sic] language other than English will not be tolerated,” the document states. It also informs students that they had to sign the paper -- that their signatures would count as a test grade.

"It is direct opposite, [a] direct violation to what we really stand for as a district,” Vineland Superintendent of Schools Charles Ottinger told NBC 10 News Thursday.
It was actually the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey that first caught wind of the contract, said Ottinger. The ACLU then fired off a letter to Ottinger, reminding the school district that English-only policies are illegal. The letter also asked that all such policies be rescinded.
“We don’t condone it and we have no such policy,” said Ottinger.
School officials received no prior complaints from parents or students, said officials. In fact, they said they had no idea about the “contract” until Wednesday, when they were shocked by the arrival of the ACLU’s letter. 

“We’re really surprised to hear that we had something like that going on,” Ottinger said.
Criticism of the unofficial policy quickly spread through Vineland.
“I find it very offensive,” said Jennifer Rivera of ASPIRA Inc. of New Jersey, a non-profit organization that provides services to the city’s large Hispanic community, including Vineland High School students.
“It’s unfair and a lot of these students are just beginning to learn how to speak English,” said Rivera, herself a Vineland High School graduate.
But other Vineland residents interviewed by NBC 10 sided with the teacher.
“We do live in the United States of America and we should be speaking English in school. What you do at home is your own business,” said Helen Tassakis.
“I don’t see anything wrong with that. If we were in other countries, I’m sure they would require us to speak their language,” resident Cheryl Hobbs said.
A woman at the teacher’s home Thursday said she had no comment and abruptly shut the front door.
School district officials said they have not been able to reach the teacher either, but added that she has not taught at all in any Vineland public school this school year.

Administrators are now doing a district-wide investigation to make sure no other unofficial language policies are or were in place, said officials.
“We’re taking immediate action to make sure it doesn’t continue,” Ottinger said.

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