ACLU Asks Esmeralda County To Stop English-Only Rule On School Bus

January 31, 2008 12:00 am

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Prohibiting Students From Speaking Spanish On Bus Is Unconstitutional And Discriminatory, Says Group

LAS VEGAS – Forbidding Esmeralda County public high school students from speaking Spanish while riding the school bus violates their free speech rights and discriminates against children of Latino backgrounds, charged the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Nevada in a letter sent today to Esmeralda County School District Superintendent Robert Aumaugher. The ACLU requests that the school district rescind the ban on Spanish immediately.

“The Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized that students do not ‘shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate,’” said Jennifer Chang, staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Not allowing these kids to speak their native language on the bus not only violates their most basic free speech rights, but it isolates and discriminates against them in a way that I thought Rosa Parks put an end to decades ago.”

The Esmeralda School District’s policy that prohibits speaking Spanish on the bus was approved by the Esmeralda County School Board in October 2007. It affects about a dozen high school students from a small farming and ranching community in Esmeralda who are bused by the Esmeralda County school district several miles – over an hour each way – to Tonopah High School in neighboring Nye County. As a consequence of the rule, those whose English skills are weak must refrain almost entirely from speaking during the long bus ride. Since all Spanish is banned on the bus, the rule also prevents all students from discussing or completing their Spanish homework assignments while on the bus.

Nye County has no such discriminatory policy that prohibits speaking Spanish on the bus or at school.

“During the bus ride to and from school there is no scheduled scholastic instruction,” said Lee Rowland, staff attorney with the ACLU of Nevada. “Yet while English-speaking students can carry on personal conversations that don’t further any educational goals, Spanish-speaking students must sit in silence.”

By singling out and prohibiting the use of Spanish, the ACLU’s letter points out, the school district sends the message that Spanish-speakers, the majority of whom are Latino, are inferior. Because the language people choose to speak closely reflects their culture and where they are from, restricting the use of languages violates federal prohibitions against discrimination based on national origin.

“The superintendent may think his rule is helping students learn English,” said Maggie McLetchie, staff attorney with the ACLU of Nevada. “But in fact, he is encouraging division by excluding and humiliating Latino students who are an important part of the student body.”

The ACLU has requested to meet with Aumaugher soon to resolve the matter of the school district’s policy that prohibits Spanish on the bus.

The ACLU’s letter is online in both English and Spanish at:

More information on the work of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project is available at:

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