RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A Richmond middle school teacher has been suspended after a student recorded her forbidding the use of Spanish in class and telling a student to “go back to wherever that Spanish-speaking country is and speak it.”

The five minutes of audio, published by a local Hispanic radio station last week, has sparked outrage across the school division, with a prominent organization of Latino residents saying the problem is endemic in Richmond Public Schools.

“You speak it at home baby”

The audio, captured by a student who appears to be uninvolved in the confrontation, includes a conversation between a Boushall Middle School teacher and a student in the class, neither of whom has been identified.

“English is spoken in this class, period,” the teacher says.

“My native language is Spanish, so I can talk in Spanish-” the student replies, before being cut off by the teacher.

“Right, well go back to wherever that Spanish-speaking country is and speak it,” the teacher says. “But when you in America you gonna speak English in the classes that are spoken here.”

Later, the student says, “I didn’t know speaking my own language was wrong.”

“You speak it at home baby, with your mama and your dad and whoever else is there,” the teacher replies.

“I can speak it anywhere,” the student says.

“You not gonna speak it in here,” the teacher says. “And I’m gonna prove to you that you’re gonna write that essay and you’ll never do it again.”

The teacher then evidently sends the student to the office.

“Tenemos que estar dispuestos a defender a nuestros hijos”

At a school board meeting Monday night, the mother of the child disciplined for speaking Spanish spoke out, saying the incident had a deep impact on her daughter.

“El dia que pasó esto mi hija llegó a la casa y se encerró en el cuarto y no paraba de llorar,” she said, which translates to “The day this happened, my daughter came home and locked herself in her room and wouldn’t stop crying.”

She added that it could be difficult for Spanish-speaking students and families to stand up for themselves, but that she appreciated the support of those that came to the meeting.

“Nosotros los padres, tenemos que estar dispuestos a defender a nuestros hijos,” she said, translated to “We as parents have to be willing to defend our children.”

At Boushall Middle School, 44% of students are Hispanic and 38% are English Learners.

Dr. Rachel Gomez, president of the Richmond chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) told the board that incidents like this weren’t out of the ordinary and that they frequently received reports from families across the school division.

“District-wide, this is a systemic issue that is not being handled properly, and that is why LULAC requested a task force on the status of Latino and English-Language Learner (ELL) students,” she said.

She called on the school division to implement mandatory civics education for staff and students, claiming the audio showed clear violations of the student’s constitutional rights.


Shortly after Monday’s board meeting, RPS Chief Wellness Officer Renesha Parks confirmed that the Boushall teacher had been suspended.

“Racism, bigotry, and intolerance of any kind will not be tolerated at Richmond Public Schools,” she wrote. “The employee is currently on administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation by the Employee Relations team.”

The school board also issued a collective statement, re-affirming in general terms their non-discrimination policy, writing that it “unequivocally condemns all forms of racism, discrimination and prejudice, issues which are deeply ingrained in our society and must be challenged and dismantled in all their forms.”

However, the statement did not directly address the pattern of discrimination alleged by LULAC in comments before the board nor did it address the specific issue of Spanish in the classroom.

That may be because the division does not appear to have a concrete policy protecting students who wish to speak their native languages.

Though the school division’s policies and Student Code of Responsible Ethics forbid discrimination “against any individual for reasons of race, religion, color, gender, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, disability, ethnicity, ancestry, marital status or on any other basis prohibited by law,” neither contains an explicit policy on what languages can and can’t be spoken int he classroom.

It’s a thorny legal issue that became national news in the early 2000s when several states passed “English-only” laws, dictating that schools only use English in class and avoid “bilingual education” programs.

But while English is the official language of Virginia, it is not a state with English-Only classrooms — a distinction that may seem obscure to some, but essentially means no school division is required to ban Spanish in the classroom.