Group faults Durham schools' treatment of Latinos

Posted April 13, 2011

— One of North Carolina's largest school districts is discriminating against Latino students and their parents by failing to provide them with adequate resources, according to a nationally known civil rights advocacy group threatening to file a federal complaint.

But while the Southern Poverty Law Center's criticism is directed at Durham public schools, the dispute raises questions for districts around the state, where Latinos have become the fastest-growing segment of the school-age population. Linguistic hurdles, income gaps and lack of access to services like health care all contribute to making Latino children especially vulnerable, according to groups who study the issue.

Jerri Katzerman, director of educational advocacy for the Birmingham, Ala.-based SPLC, said her group has spoken to hundreds of families who have all said the same thing. 

"We have really serious situations where youngsters are feeling unwelcome in their schools," Katzerman said. "Youngsters routinely endure name-calling, they're called slurs. There are teachers and students who will mock them, their accents and their lack of English language ability."

Lawyers for the district are reviewing the center's accusations, schools spokeswoman Tahira Stalberte said.

"We are committed to providing appropriate services to all students in Durham public schools and to complying with the requirements of federal law in serving students of all nationalities," she said.

The law center's complaint alleges problems in four areas: a hostile environment for students, limited access to Spanish language interpreters for parents and students, inadequate translation of school materials like report cards, progress reports and teachers' notes and lack of compliance with federal requirements for communicating with parents of children with low English proficiency.

In one case, Katzerman said, a student who had successfully completed coursework for students learning English was required to take an English proficiency test when he moved to a new school because of his Latino surname.

The SPLC received several complaints about Northern High School, where it is alleged that a teacher pushed a Latino student against a wall and told them to go back to their own country. A teacher there is also accused of using racial slurs against Latinos. 

Education Generic 2 Group faults Durham schools' treatment of Latinos

At an unnamed middle school, there are claims that a substitute teacher had all the students with Spanish last names in class stand up, and he took video of them with his cellphone.

More broadly, the center says there are three Spanish language interpreters for Durham's 54 public schools, which serve roughly 6,000 Spanish-speaking households, a ratio the group says is inadequate to meet the needs of parents and their children.

"To the extent that translation is happening at all, it's extremely erratic," Katzerman said. "Some things are translated, some aren't. We have parents who routinely feel inhibited from being able to be a part of the school community, because they receive very limited information in Spanish."

The law center wants to meet with Durham schools officials to discuss its concerns, warning that it will file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights if the district doesn't take steps to change the situation.

With over 32,500 students, Durham is one of the largest school districts in the state. About 21 percent of its students are Latino.

Some members of Durham's Latino community have complained about treatment in the schools to El Centro Hispano, a community organization based in the city that also serves Chapel Hill and Carrboro, according to Pilar Rocha-Goldberg, the organization's president. But Rocha-Goldberg said El Centro has had success acting as a mediator between the schools and the community.

"We work with parents, we work with kids, we also work with the Durham public schools," she said. "They've been open to talk to us, and we're in the process to see how we can resolve some of these issues."

The Latino population among school-age North Carolinians has risen as dramatically as the percentage of Latinos overall in the state. Between 2000 and 2010, the overall Latino population in the state more than doubled, to over 800,000. Latinos make up about 12 percent of the state's child population, according to Action for Children North Carolina, which issued reports last year on immigrant children generally and Latinos specifically.

The reports found that children from Latino families face a number of unique challenges, ranging from language barriers to living in so-called "mixed status" families, in which the children may be citizens of the U.S. while the parents may be in the country illegally.

"They're definitely facing barriers to services," said Mandy Ableidinger, director of policy and budget analysis for Action for Children. "Often if they're in mixed-status families, it makes parents very unwilling to seek out services for their children, even if their children are American citizens."

Latino children are still performing significantly below state averages on reading and math tests, with just 17 percent of Latino 4th-graders achieving a rating of "proficient" or better on reading tests. Challenges include growing up in households where most adults speak only Spanish, and widespread economic woe: about 73 percent of Latino children live in low-income households, according to the group's research, compared to the state average of roughly 43 percent.

The reports say that about 84 percent of Latino children in North Carolina are citizens, and that about 78 percent are fluent in English.

"Mostly what we're talking about is American kids who aren't getting services," Ableidinger said.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • Heights Apr 14, 2011

    It seems the general consensus is that all Latinos are here illegally. This is far from the truth. And as far a no more handouts, I agree. But this also applies the legal Americans that are fleecing the system.

  • driverkid3 Apr 14, 2011

    Thirdly, if they do have an SS#, it is fake or stolen, which means they're breaking another federal law; identity theft.

    I was reading somewhere else the other day where a woman was raging mad that her illegal husband was not allowed to come back into the states. She ADMITTED that he and others were either stealing or making up SS numbers to stay here, yet she said there "was nothing wrong with it." By the way, she also said she was "born here and white" Those are HER words, not mine.

  • AtALost Apr 14, 2011

    Simple solution. Require proof of citizenship for students to enroll and deny automatic citizenship for anchor babies. Practically everything is in English and Spanish already. If that isn't sufficient, you can always return to your home country. If we're going to give food stamps, health care, etc. to illegals who break the law for better lives, we should release everyone in jail for non-violent crimes. I'm sure they were trying to make better lives for their families too.

  • delilahk2000 Apr 14, 2011


  • Arapaloosa Apr 14, 2011

    "however they do have what is called an ITIN(individual tax payer id number) So they do pay into the system and they are unable to get money back.,,id=222209,00.html"

    I did look at this, but it appears to referring to legal aliens, i.e., those with visas or other documentation. Unless they are fraudulently acquiring the ITIN (oh, gee, another broken law), this doesn't apply.

  • jbarron4950 Apr 14, 2011

    My panties are good thank you!! lol But perhaps you havent heard... most politicians want the "latino" votes so they are not going to hurt their voters....1 of the original Americans

    I know this is a little off the subject, but how good are your panties?

  • jbarron4950 Apr 14, 2011

    *Actually, Gwally, illegal immigration is GOOD for the U.S. economy. All that money that illegal immigrants pay into OUR social security...they can never get back.
    *Economist William Ford of Middle Tennessee State Univ. calculates that illegal immigrants contributed $428 billion dollars to the nation's $13.6 trillion GDP in 2006.
    *Beyond income tax, they pay the full Social Sec. & Medicare taxes due - that they can never get back. The SSA estimates that about 3/4 of illegal workers pay taxes that contribute to the overall solvency of Social Security and Medicare.
    *Ford said, "If anything we need more immigrants coming into the country, not less, especially with the baby boomers retiring."

    On the surface this sounds great. What about the illegals who are paid in CASH? And what are they contributing to the GDP of Mexico and other Latin American countries> I'll bet that Western Union isn't complaining about the hefty profit on the money

  • jbarron4950 Apr 14, 2011

    durham schools is paying so much attention to latino's and black males that the other kids get so far behind that they cant make the grade !....mramorak

    Who are the other kids that you are referring to? From what the numbers say, the other kids seem to be faring better than anyone else. If you're referring to YOUR own kid, maybe he or she is just as dumb as you.

  • jbarron4950 Apr 14, 2011

    Sounds just like another group who is currently disrupting wake county schools......ugottabkiddinme

    The "another group" you are speaking of is working on behalf of REAL, LEGAL, American citizens because people like you exist. Citizens, that people like you, would continue to try and push to the back of the bus, if allowed to do so. And your problem is that you really don't want to be held accountable for your actions. Too bad, Big Brother is watching and he's not going to stop. Now have a great day!

  • ivanakhanson Apr 14, 2011

    "Secondly, if they are illegals, they don't have an SS#, so they aren't paying taxes."

    This is incorrect. You are correct that illegals do not have social security numbers, however they do have what is called an ITIN(individual tax payer id number) So they do pay into the system and they are unable to get money back.,,id=222209,00.html