CLIFFSIDE PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Students at a New Jersey high school staged a walkout Monday, demanding a teacher resign or be fired after she was caught on cellphone video telling Spanish-speaking students to “speak American.”
As CBS2’s Lisa Rozner reported, three dozen students walked out of class, waving flags from all over, after the video went viral.
The video, which was recorded in a math class last week at Cliffside Park High School, has thousands of views on YouTube and social media comments on both sides of the issue.
Before the 26-second clip was recorded, students were apparently whispering to each other in Spanish during class, 1010 WINS’ Samantha Liebman reported.
In the video, the teacher is heard telling the class “…Men and women fighting, they’re not fighting for your right to speak Spanish, they’re fighting for your right to speak American.”
The remarks sparked cries of racism from students and at least one student could be seen walking out of the classroom.
Some students claim this is not the first time the teacher has made racist or disparaging comments, Liebman reported.
“She finally got recorded and exposed. It makes a whole different situation,” one student said. “It’s not the first time it’s happened nor will it be the last time.”
Other students said she is a good teacher and that the video may not tell the whole story.
The principal held an assembly on Friday to address the incident.
Many students said they were offended after seeing the video and risked what they were told were dire consequences to walk out of school Monday, Liebman reported.
“It isn’t right what she said,” one student said.
“I think she should be reprimanded, no one should speak like that in a public school,” another student said.
“I love this school to death, but something like this is unacceptable,” another student said.
Several dozen students walked out hoping to send a message to the school district.
“Cliffside Park is known for being a multicultural town and if we have teachers like this discriminating against a certain language because some kids can’t even speak English how is she going to work here with all these different cultures?” one student said.
Many who walked out want the teacher suspended.
“The schools supposed to be a safe environment for children to learn. It’s not supposed to be a place we feel attacked,” Herbert Rodriguez said.
Students said the teacher was not in class on Friday or Monday.
One parent said the teacher had spoken that way to her son in the past.
“She said, don’t speak because this is American, you have to speak English,” Blanca Pastrana said.
Others defended the teacher.
“These kids, they need to respect. They don’t teach them respect,” one parent said.
“This is a school setting, our primary language is English. I think the teacher is experiencing injustice,” Blanche Lopez added.
CBS2 went to the home of the teacher — identified by students as Laura Amico — but no one answered the door.
“For me she was the nicest person I ever met, maybe this time she wasn’t feeling good,” Caemren Benitez said.
She said he classmates just want an apology, not for the teacher to lose her job.
The principal would not comment on the situation. The school board held an emergency meeting Monday night to discuss whether to discipline the teacher.