New Jersey students walk out after teen told to 'speak American'

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Monday, October 16, 2017
New Jersey students walk out after teen told to 'speak American'
Darla Miles reports from Cliffside Park on the controversy.

CLIFFSIDE PARK, New Jersey (WABC) -- Dozens of students walked out of their New Jersey high school Monday in protest after a teacher was caught on camera telling a student who was speaking Spanish to "speak American."

The students are calling for the teacher to apologize.

Seventeen-year-old Yennifer Pinales said her teacher at Cliffside Park High School lashed out, telling her to practice her English. The rest was caught on video by another student.

"They're not fighting for your right to speak Spanish," the teacher is heard saying. "They're fighting for your right to speak American."

Watch the raw video here:

Raw video shows when a teacher at Cliffside Park High School apparently told a student to 'speak American.'

The comments got some students so fired up they organized a walkout Monday.

"It won't be the last time, it won't be the first time, but addressing the situation hopefully will change something," junior Jasmeen Velasco said. "She had no right to say that, especially in a classroom full of Hispanic kids. Do you understand me?"

There are layers to the controversy in the multi-cultural school of about 1,100 students. The remark was made last week to Pinales, who speaks both Spanish and English fluently.

"She said, 'I'm so fed up with you speaking Spanish," Pinales said. "'I told you to practice your English!'"

Valesco said the event was planned, and school administrators were aware.

"We all agreed that we were going to walk out during the fourth period, but since our principal knew it was going to happen, we didn't know what was going to happen, whether they would try to stop us," she said. "But we decided to walk out a period earlier, so we could come out here and support."

About 100 students of all ethnic backgrounds participated in the protest.

"I didn't get more offended over the language, I got more offended over the soldier aspect," junior Eren Dayakli said. "Like how men and women fight for us to speak American instead of Spanish, even though both of my uncles were in the military. They weren't born here. They immigrated here from Turkey."

After Pinales told the teacher she was appalled by her comments, she was kicked out of class.

"The teacher should apologize," Pinales said. "She didn't only offend me, she offended a whole community. I'm not asking her to lose her job. And if she doesn't feel comfortable working with people speaking a second language, then she should go someplace else."

The school says it encourages students who struggle with English to practice, but Pinales speaks Spanish because she wants to and is also in the process of learning French.

"Seeing as though the board has not given its decision on the situation at hand, I feel as though the protest is not necessarily something I would recommend," student council president Kleidon Ndreu said. "I think we all need to take deep breaths."

The district has been silent, denying repeated media requests for comment. The business administrator told Eyewitness News that the superintendent was not in the office Monday.