Suspensions may be coming down for dozens of students who walked out of Cliffside Park High School on Monday in protest of a teacher who said students should "speak American."
The teacher was caught on video in a 26-second clip, published on NorthJersey.com on Friday, in which she screams at a student, insisting he speak only in English.
"Men and women are fighting. They are not fighting for your right to speak Spanish," the teacher says in the video. "They are fighting for your right to speak American."
On Monday, at least 50 students, some wearing or waving flags, including those of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Brazil, walked out of classes and gathered on the steps in front of the high school during the fourth period of the school day. Passing motorists honked their horns in support of the students, and residents stopped to watch.
"Everyone should know about it," said Anthony Campos, a student.
"Mostly every student here is basically from another country," Seda Avci, a freshman, said before classes began. "So it hurts other people, knowing that they don't want them to speak their own language."
The protesters said they'd been warned that those who walked out would be suspended, and that some students who had walked out had already been given suspensions, although that could not be confirmed Monday. School employees, however, took photos of students participating in the walkout.
Student Council President Kleidon Ndreu said the principal had told him that any punishment had yet to be determined.
On Monday evening, the Board of Education held a special meeting in closed session. Superintendent Michael Romagnino declined to provide details after the nearly hour-and-a-half meeting.
"It's a personnel matter at this time," said Romagnino.
He said regarding the walkout: "Parents can be assured that we're addressing it."
Asked if there would be discipline against students who walked out, Romagnino said, "That's a matter that will be discussed with our administration at the high school."
During the protest, students waved their flags and chanted in both English and Spanish, saying, "C.P. united" and "All lives matter." The borough of Cliffside Park is nearly 30 percent Latino, according to census figures.
Some students, however, said that although they disagreed with what the teacher said, they wanted to give her a chance to explain herself.
"I think what she said was wrong, definitely," said Patrick Martinez, a sophomore. "But I also think the school should give a chance to hear her out; people should try to talk to her. Even though what she said was wrong, it was in the heat of the moment."
Rene Lavergneau, a Cliffside Park resident and former coordinator of foreign languages, bilingual education and English as a second language for the Hackensack public schools, said what the teacher said in the video was "deplorable.
"That a teacher should say something of that nature to a student — who's here to really get an education, who's here because this is a land of opportunity," he said. "People don't come to this country to fail, they come to succeed, and they should be encouraged to do their most and best at all times. ... Speaking Spanish is an asset, and should be seen as one."
Ndreu, the president of the Student Council, said the actions of one teacher do not represent the rest, who he said have been tolerant, accepting and supportive.
He added that it was premature to protest, as the Board of Education had not yet made a decision or taken action on the teacher.
"I think we all need to take deep breaths and slow the news pace," he said. "I have faith the administration cares about the students. I think they're trying to do the best they can."
The protest broke up around 11:30 a.m., an hour or so after it began, when a fire alarm sounded and the school evacuated. Many students continued chanting and waving flags while outside the building for the fire alarm.
Former Cliffside Park teacher Tony Violante said, "I don't think it's a fireable offense. I think an apology may be in order."