Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools v. the Spanish Language

A woman named Ana Ligia Mateo was hired as a bilingual secretary at Devonshire Elementary School in 2006. For years after, she assisted parents of Hispanic students (a group that makes up 42% of the school’s student body this year) who only spoke Spanish.

In 2008, she was told that she was not allowed to speak Spanish to parents, despite many Spanish-speaking parents relying on her fluency in the language. This, at a school whose website describes it as an “Academy of Cultural and Academic Diversity.”

Mateo continued to interact with some parents in Spanish, despite repeatedly being told by administrators to stop. Eventually this dispute led to the end of her employment, though the exact circumstances are now the subject of a lawsuit against Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.

The tricky thing is, the CMS school district is actually well known for its accommodation of Spanish-speaking families. As reported by the Charlotte Observer, “Schools and the district often translate materials that are sent home, and events for families often have Spanish translators provided by CMS. More than 15 of the district’s ‘Parent University’ classes are offered in Spanish, including one on legal rights and responding to discrimination.”

So why is Devonshire Elementary making such a big deal out of employees speaking Spanish to parents? Apparently a new principal took over at the school in 2008. According to the lawsuit, Principal Suzanne Gimenez “announced in a staff meeting that she would no longer allow Spanish to be spoken to parents by any of the faculty or staff.”

After a couple of stressful encounters with tearful parents, including one mother “crying and stating in Spanish that someone at the school had placed a stick in her seven-year-old son’s buttocks,” Mateo complained to Human Resources at the school district and was told not to return to work until she signed a written no-Spanish policy. She refused, and lost her job.

The school district won’t comment on the matter, which is understandable considering this is an active lawsuit. But reading the allegations (which you can do by clicking here) I can’t help but be outraged on Ms. Mateo’s behalf.

Frankly, I’m shocked that the school district didn’t take up the EEOC’s offer to mediate and resolve this issue out of court. The lawsuit is awful publicity, and there’s the potential for a hefty verdict in Ms. Mateo’s favor if a jury finds that the district should’ve gone to greater lengths to protected her under Title VII.

I really hope there is a good explanation for what appears to be outrageous behavior on the school’s part… Not because I want Ms. Mateo to lose the lawsuit, but because I would like to think that an organization like CMS couldn’t possibly think it was acceptable to allow this sort of thing to happen.

And if CMS doesn’t have a rock-solid defense, I hope the jury sticks it to ’em, because this is just rigoddamndiculous.

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