One of North Carolina’s largest school districts has agreed to better protect Latino students from discrimination after the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a federal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights against the school system. The SPLC complained in April that Durham Public Schools did not follow federal law to “ensure that non-English speaking students have a meaningful opportunity to participate in education programs.”
Specifically, the center’s letter said the district only provided three Spanish interpreters for 5,300 students whose primary language was Spanish, did not provide translated information for non-English speaking parents, and that the schools “created or maintained” an hostile learning environment:
Take for example the situation of C.A.H. [...] C.A.H. presented the proof of residency documents called for under District policy, but Hillside staff requested that she produce a passport and immigrant visa – something never requested of non-Latino students. During the enrollment process, a school staff member made several derogatory comments asking her “how can you be here without a passport or visa” then concluding that “you must be an illegal.” [...]
We are particularly concerned about the atmosphere at Northern High School where teachers routinely engage in ethnic name calling of students with no repercussions. In one situation, a group of Latino students were called “Eses” by their teacher while being collectively accused of theft. “Ese” is a derogatory slur, intended to imply gang or criminal affiliation. [...]
On one occasion, a teacher removed F.C.M. from class in response to an allegation of a minor discipline infraction, forcibly pushed him against a wall, and suggested that F.C.M. “go back to your own country.” Following this incident, in mid-January 2011, the same teacher advised F.C.M. to sit next to a bilingual student, S.R., during the screening of an instructional video. The video was not captioned for Spanish and S.R. was deputized to translate for F.C.M. Ironically, the students were later reprimanded for talking and were taken out of the classroom by the teacher into the hallway. As had occurred in the previous incident, the teacher commented that “y’all not gonna do nothing here . . . why don’t you go back to where you came from.”
In response to the civil rights complaint, Durham Public Schools agreed to strengthen its anti-discrimination policy, review registration and enrollment policies, provide documents to parents in their native language, and provide interpreters to help parents understand the information. “It’s really a commitment from the school system to fix the problem and ensure that what has been suggested or proposed is actually being done,” said Jerri Katzerman, deputy legal director of the SPLC.
The changes by Durham school officials will hopefully serve as an example for other North Carolina school districts as the state’s population continues to shift. Minorities made up 61 percent of the state’s population growth, according to the 2010 Census, and in Durham County, minorities make up 57 percent of the population. And the actions stand in stark contrast to the racial profiling and bullying of Latino students in Alabama in the wake of that state’s extreme immigration law.