Families Sue Catholic School Over ‘English Only’ Policy

WICHITA, Kan.

Four Hispanic families are suing St. Anne’s Catholic School over a policy that requires students to speak English at all times while at school.

The lawsuit, filed Monday, May 19, calls for an end to the policy and asks for an order barring similar policies at other diocesen schools. It seeks the return of one student to the school who was allegedly kicked out for refusing to sign the “English only” pledge. It also asks for court costs and unspecified damages for discrimination and emotional suffering.

“Language is an essential characteristic of one’s national origin,” argues the complaint filed in the case. “The ban on Spanish at St. Anne’s created an atmosphere of intimidation, inferiority and isolation for Hispanic students.”

The lawsuit was filed by parents Mike and Clara Silva, Maria and Fermin Fernandez, Guadalupe Cruz-Tello and Alma Contreras on behalf of themselves and their minor children. It names as defendants St. Anne Catholic School, Principal Margaret Nugent, St. Anne Catholic Parish and the Catholic Diocese of Wichita.

“I think if one school is granted their wish by not allowing their students to speak another language, then other schools will follow suit,” Mike Silva said.

Diocesen spokesman Fred Solis called the lawsuit unfortunate, saying the church has historically offered support and services to minority people and spoken out for immigrant rights.

The diocese has said the school enacted 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. It has 75 Hispanic students, 27 Asian students and two who are Black.

The lawsuit maintains that since the school receives federal money for its free and reduced-price lunch program, it is subject to federal anti-discrimination laws. The district contends it is the students who receive the federal funding.

The students named in the lawsuit are bilingual U.S. citizens with no disciplinary records, court documents contend.

In a letter to the families’ lawyer, diocesen attorney Jay Fowler suggested the lawsuit would become a divisive issue for the community and “most likely morph into an anti-immigrant sentiment, thereby undermining the effects of both our clients,” he wrote.

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