Latina Lista: News from the Latinx perspective > Life Issues > Education > North Carolina bilingual school secretary loses job for translating for Spanish-speaking parents

North Carolina bilingual school secretary loses job for translating for Spanish-speaking parents

LatinaLista — One of the horror stories often told by Latino civil rights pioneers has always been the tale of how they were punished for speaking Spanish at school. Rightly or wrongly, it has become the standard for which to measure against how grossly violated a Latino’s civil rights are.

Thankfully, since those days, schools have made it their mission to be able to have someone on staff who can effectively communicate with the Spanish-speaking parents whose children form the majority in many public school districts across the nation.

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It’s a no-brainer to have someone who can speak to these parents and act as the liaison between the school and home. At least, it used to be a no-brainer.


We’re told that was the original intent of hiring Ana Mateo as a bilingual secretary at Devonshire Elementary School in North Carolina — until a new principal arrived. It seems the new principal didn’t like Spanish spoken on campus by anyone, especially a school employee.

It didn’t matter if parents came to the office trying to do the correct thing by getting informed or alerting the school to changes in their children’s routines, the new principal and the assistant principal didn’t just forbid Mateo from speaking Spanish to the parents but told Mateo that her resignation was accepted, though Mateo never offered it.

To Mateo’s credit, she continued speaking to the parents in Spanish, relaying much needed information to them. Mateo’s defiance didn’t go over very well with the new principal and the assistant principal who subsequently fired her for insubordination.

So, now Mateo has filed a lawsuit after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, after eight months, responded to a complaint filed by Mateo and wrote that her civil rights were violated.

A local television reporter who visited the school quickly found that a language problem does exist but he found evidence of even further abusive behavior by this school’s staff — parents were being told by school staff that they could not speak Spanish to one another on school grounds.

While the school district has told the local television station that there does not exist an English-only policy at their schools, it’s clear that there is at least one principal who has taken it upon him/herself to decide something that is beyond their authority.

Regardless of the reason why this particular principal has chosen to act in such a discriminating manner, their behavior in a profession that works with diversity on a daily basis is inappropriate, unprofessional, exemplifies bad judgement and is an abuse of their power.

The website has created an online petition for people to sign to tell the Charlotte Mecklenburg School District to clearly do away with English-only policies.

Yet, if the school district is truthful about not having such a policy, and I’m thinking that it would be since Mateo was hired in the first place, it stands to reason that this principal needs to be reassigned, re-evaluated and enrolled in sensitivity training on how to communicate with parents of other than English-speaking students.

Mateo should win her court case. She’s asking for a $100,000 to cover lost back wages and other expenses she has incurred since her dismissal, but she’s entitled to much more — for starters, like an apology from that principal!

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  • eduardo melendez
    February 15, 2010 at 6:17 am

    I teach in Massachusetts, and I have experience a group of white teachers having, personal problems with spanish been spoken in schools. In a school where 90% of the population are latinos. Racism sucks and who ever made this part of their lives.

  • irma
    February 15, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    Massachusetts is a racist state- I lived there 10 years and saw it firsthand.
    However, if children can speak English and Spanish- then English should be the norm,
    especially if there are individuals present
    who cannot speak Spanish. It is a matter of
    being polite.
    But, if Spanish is the only way to communicate with teachers, then it makes sense to use it.
    Language should be used to INCLUDE not EXCLUDE people.

  • Stacie Jatho
    February 17, 2010 at 3:49 am

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    February 17, 2010 at 6:04 pm

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  • Bob
    February 22, 2010 at 8:54 am

    I was not aware that Freedom of Speech only applies to English. This is less about freedom as it is about control. If people understood all the languages spoken, this would not be an issue. The fact that people in this story are unable to understand Spanish (you can substitute any language in this space) means that they do not feel as if they have control over the situation. Therefore, their fear becomes bigotry and the result is instead of building bridges they are building walls of exclusion.

  • cookie
    February 23, 2010 at 8:51 am

    Bottom line, don’t come to this country thinking you should be catered to in your native language. Our national language is English and no, we Americans are not going to learn a dozen different foreign languages to accomodate all of you.

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