A Catholic school in Wichita is being sued by four Hispanic families over a policy that requires students to speak English in school at all times.
The Associated Press reports that the lawsuit filed against St. Anne’s Catholic School on Monday seeks to end the policy and to secure an order barring similar policies at other diocesan schools. The suit also seeks to allow the return of one student who was allegedly kicked out for refusing to sign the “English only” pledge. It asks for court costs and unspecified damages for discrimination and emotional suffering.
Parents Mike and Clara Silva, Maria and Fermin Fernandez, Guadalupe Cruz-Tello and Alma Contreras filed the lawsuit on behalf of themselves and their minor children. The lawsuit names as defendants St. Anne Catholic School, Principal Margaret Nugent, St. Anne Catholic Parish, and the Catholic Diocese of Wichita.
The diocese said the school instituted the policy in response to four students who were using Spanish to bully others and to put down teachers and administrators. The majority of the school’s 243 students are white, while 75 students are Hispanic, 27 are Asian, and two are black.
According to court documents, the students named in the lawsuit are bilingual U.S. citizens with no disciplinary record.
Lawyers for the students' parents claimed that bullying was not the initial reason the school enacted the policy, citing a letter the school sent home saying that students who are immersed in the English language improve their ability to improve and succeed.
"One real problem that I think the plaintiffs have with the policy is not just that it's a bad policy, but that the justification keeps changing," said Christopher M. McHugh, an attorney for the families. "When one doesn't work, you move on to the next reason."
"I think if one school is granted their wish by not allowing their students to speak another language, then other schools will follow suit," said parent Mike Silva, according to the Associated Press.
Diocese of Wichita spokesman Fred Solis told the AP that the lawsuit was unfortunate because the church has historically offered services to minorities and has supported immigrant rights.
The diocese’s attorney Jay Fowler suggested in a letter to the families’ lawyer that the lawsuit would divide the community.
"The politicization of what basically is a disagreement between a parent and a school will most likely morph into an anti-immigrant sentiment, thereby undermining the effects of both our clients," he wrote.
The lawsuit claims that because the school receives federal money for its free and reduced-price lunch program, it is subject to federal anti-discrimination laws. The school district argues that the students, not the school, receive the federal funding.