The principal of the Hempstead's middle school is on paid administrative leave while the district investigates whether she tried to ban students from speaking Spanish in the classroom.
A school district spokeswoman tells Local 2 Investigates the district does not have such a policy but confirmed some type of announcement was made over the school's public address system in mid-November.
"What I can tell you is that an announcement was made. The content of that announcement is still under investigation," Hempstead Independent School District spokesperson Laurie Bettis told Local 2's Jace Larson.
Bettis said the administrator, who Local 2 has confirmed is Principal Amy Lacey, was put on leave Nov 26. Bettis did not know how long the investigation would last.
The Mexican American Legal and Educational Fund (MALDEF) recently wrote a letter to the school saying the district could face legal action if the district enacted such a policy, saying it violated the equal protection cause of the United States Constitution.
"The anti-Spanish policy also invites potential challenges under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects 'pure speech' of prisoners, employees and, of course, students," David Hinojosa, of MALDEF, wrote in a letter to the school district's superintendent dated Nov. 21.
The school responded with a letter telling MALDEF that no such policy exists.
Cynthia Zamora's daughter attends Hempstead Middle School and texted her mom to say she could get in trouble for speaking Spanish. Her daughter is in sixth grade and is learning to speak English but is not yet fluent, her mother said.
"I understand they want these kids to learn English. I understand this. We want our children to learn English. It’s not something that is going to happen from one day to the next," Zamora said.
Zamora said other parents and students have told her at least one student was disciplined for speaking Spanish after the announcement.
Bettis said she was not aware of anyone being disciplined for speaking Spanish or any other language.
She said the district has always worked hard to educate students.
The district also released a statement to Local 2. The following is the entire statement:
“As always, it is our mission at Hempstead ISD to ensure that our students enjoy a safe and secure learning environment. We are creating a culture of excellence at Hempstead by giving our students the best customer service possible. We have high expectations for our students and we are holding our administrators, teachers and support staff to high expectations and standards as well.
Hempstead ISD or any individual campus does not have a policy prohibiting the use of Spanish or any other language at school. We are continuing to “Create a Culture of Excellence” which includes embracing ALL students of all cultural and diverse backgrounds. Our priorities are our students.
The district has received allegations regarding this issue and the district is investigating the matter. At this time the administrator is on administrative leave with pay until the investigation is completed and appropriate action is determined. This is all we can say at this time as there is a pending investigation on this matter.
The district is committed to efficiently and effectively resolving this matter with as little disruption to our students and their learning environment as possible.”