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‘Speak American,’ a teacher told students. So dozens walked out of school in protest.

Charlotte substitute teacher tells student ‘go back to where you speak Spanish’

A substitute teacher at a Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C. school was caught in a video that appeared to show the teacher scolding a student for speaking Spanish.
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A substitute teacher at a Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C. school was caught in a video that appeared to show the teacher scolding a student for speaking Spanish.

When video surfaced of a teacher at Cliffside Park High School telling a student to “speak American” in class, many at the school took it personally.

The short video, which first surfaced Friday, was captured by a student sitting near the back of a class at the New Jersey high school, according to Pix11.

In it, a teacher is heard talking to a student when she says, “…men and women are fighting. They are not fighting for your right to speak Spanish. They are fighting for your right to speak American.”

“You’re being racist,” a student responds in the video, before a handful of students leave class in disgust. “I know how to speak English.”

Many who live in Cliffside Park are Latin American, according to NorthJersey.com, with the U.S. Census putting the percent of Hispanic residents at around 30.

And, according to NBC, two-thirds of students at the school identify as people of color.

That’s why the comment hit so close to home for Seda Avci, a freshman at the school.

“Mostly every student here is basically from another country," Avci told NorthJersey.com Monday before the start of classes — and before the protest that would soon follow. “So it hurts other people, knowing that they don't want them to speak their own language.”

As the video spread over the weekend, angry students planned a protest, according to NBC.

The principal cautioned that there would be consequences for anyone disrupting classes Monday, but the warning had little effect — just under 100 students marched out of classes yesterday morning.

The walk-out was designed to send a message: Respect us.

"She disrespected an entire community,” student Janelle Andrickson told NBC, “and we want an apology.”

The protest started between third and fourth period, with about 15 students demonstrating, according to Pix11.

But it wasn’t long until dozens more made their way out of the school, chanting “C.P. United” — short for Cliffside Park United — and waving different flags for their heritage, Pix11 reported.

Images of the protest were quickly shared on Twitter, the group’s message reaching thousands upon thousands.

Eventually, the entire school was evacuated after someone pulled a fire alarm at around 11:30 a.m., according to NJ.com.

Now, with nationwide attention directly on the school, one of the students who was at the receiving end of the teacher’s ‘speak American’ comments is speaking up herself.

Vianery Cabrera, a 16-year-old at the school, said she and her friends were talking about the Yankees in Spanish when the teacher went into her rant.

“I laughed, because, first of all, that's not a language,” she told told NBC News. “I have the right to speak Spanish. I have the right to speak English. I have the right to speak whatever language I speak, and that's my right. There's no law that says that I should or I must speak English.”

After the high-profile protest, students are looking to see how the school will respond. According to the New York Daily News, the Cliffside Park School District privately met for over an hour Monday to talk about the issue.

“It’s a personnel matter at this time. We’re taking this under consideration,” Superintendent Michael Romagnino told reporters. “The parents can be assured we’re addressing it.”

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