Feds probe tech school on
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 18, 2004 12:00 AM
MESA - Federal investigators have requested records from an East Valley
technical school that prohibited students from speaking Spanish in class last
The three-page letter from the U.S. Department of Education's Denver office for
civil rights begins a fact-finding phase into the East Valley Institute of
Technology, said Silverio Garcia Jr., League of United Latin American Citizens
state education chairman.
The investigation could last several months.
The letter said officials would investigate whether EVIT subjected
national-origin minority students to different treatment by prohibiting their
use of conversational Spanish during informal classroom activities and whether
it failed to inform national-origin language-minority parents about
school-related matters in a language they understood.
"The letter speaks for itself," Garcia said. "It sends the message that federal
law has been violated."
Institute officials had until Friday to submit the requested documents, which it
did, said Lynn Strang, school spokeswoman.
Last fall, a teacher at EVIT instructed several cosmetology students to refrain
from speaking Spanish during class, a move that violated free speech, critics
One of the students, 16-year-old Patricia Otero, took the issue to a Mesa Latino
Town Hall meeting after the school couldn't produce a policy on its English-only
At the time, institute officials said the school's English-only policy backed up
Arizona's English-immersion law, approved by voters in 2000.
School officials also maintained at the time that the girls' Spanish
conversations in the class could cause the teacher to lose control of the
classroom and that it was not fair to English-speaking customers of the class.
Part of the students' training involves working on members of the public.
Otero said she's glad an investigation is moving forward.
"I know life is not fair. When I know something is wrong, I'm going to persevere
to get it fixed," said Otero, who still attends EVIT.
Institute officials said the school "acted in good faith" to make sure it was in
compliance with the law.
"We have felt always that this was a classroom-management issue. We didn't
intend to discriminate against any student," Strang said.
"If (the government) thinks we can do more, we will do it," she said.
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