CLIFFSIDE PARK, N.J. (CNN) — Several dozen students walked out of class at Cliffside Park High School Monday morning in response to a video showing an English teacher telling students to “speak American.”
The 25-second recording has gone viral and it has provoked a debate online.
“…men and women are fighting. They are not fighting for your right to speak Spanish,” the teacher can be heard saying, “They are fighting for your right to speak American.”
This comment prompted three students to immediately walk out of the classroom. One accused the teacher of being prejudiced on her way out.
“You’re being racist,” the student can be heard saying. “I know how to speak English.”
Parent Blanche Lopez, whose daughter attends the middle school, said the encounter “has nothing to do with race or nothing like that.”
“If someone doesn’t speak the language, I’m gonna speak English to them,” she said.
Students said the teacher, who was substituting in a junior-senior level math class that day, has chastised them for speaking other languages before.
“She would usually be in the hallways and tell you not to speak Spanish,” freshman Omar Toledo said. “Which would be really messed up because we are not in her class and we have the right to speak what we want to speak.”
The protest began with about 15 students outside the high school in between third and fourth periods, but soon after, students began to pour out of the school. Some waved flags out of the school windows and on the front lawn to represent their culture.
“We wanted to make a statement obviously and let it be known hopefully this is the last time it will ever happen,” junior Jasmeen Velesco said.
About an hour-and-a-half into the protest, the school’s fire alarm was triggered and the entire building was evacuated. It remains unclear who or what set off the alarm, but most students returned to class soon after.
CNN affiliate WPIX has reached out to the school’s superintendent for comment twice. So far we have not heard back.
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