New Jersey students walk out after teacher tells Spanish-speaking student to 'speak American'

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Monday, October 16, 2017
New Jersey students walk out after teacher tells Spanish-speaking student to 'speak American'
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Darla Miles has more on the Cliffside Park High School protest.

CLIFFSIDE PARK, N.J. -- About two dozen 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.

Yennifer Pinales, 17, says her teacher at Cliffside Park High School lashed out, telling her to practice her English.

The rest was caught on video by another student.

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

The comments got some students so fired up they walked out of class Monday morning.

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

"I didn't get more offended over the language, I got more offended over the soldier aspect," said high school junior Eren Dayakli.

There are layers to this 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. I told you to practice your English,'" said Pinales.

"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," said Velasco. "But we decided to walk out a period earlier so we could come out here and support."

More students later joined the protest, which was started by the school's diverse student body.

Dayakli explained why she was bothered by the military aspect of the teacher's comment.

"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," he said.

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

"The teacher should apologize," said Pinales. "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.

Eyewitness News has reached out to Cliffside Park High School for comment.