New York, NY — The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) and members of the National Asian American Education Advocates (NAAEA) Network are calling on members of the Terrebonne Parish School Board to rescind a recommendation prohibiting the use of non-English languages during commencement ceremonies.
During a May commencement speech at Ellender High School in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, two co-valedictorians spoke several lines in Vietnamese to express gratitude to their parents, refugees from Vietnam. They then translated the brief statements into English for the general audience. Certain school board members responded by advocating for a policy to require that all future commencement speeches be in English only.
AALDEF and the NAAEA Network argue that an English-only commencement policy would infringe upon students’ freedom of expression, discriminate against language minorities, and ultimately perpetuate cultural intolerance within the school system. The groups are urging the School Board to issue a public statement collectively denouncing such recommendations and reassuring the community that an English-only policy will not be formally proposed in this fall’s annual commencement review process. In an open letter to the Terrebonne County School Board, AALDEF and the NAAEA network raise important free speech and national origin discrimination concerns with the English-only proposal.
Khin Mai Aung, Staff Attorney for AALDEF’s Educational Equity and Youth Rights Project, said “Like all English-only policies, this proposal is nativist, discriminatory, and violates students’ free speech and civil rights. It sends a dangerous message to Terrebonne Parish’s student body that linguistic and cultural diversity must be suppressed, not celebrated.”
AALDEF, a 34-year-old national organization that protects and promotes the civil rights of Asian Americans, coordinates the NAAEA Network, which is comprised of Asian American youth groups, youth organizers, and youth advocates from across the country. The NAAEA Network promotes the educational rights of Asian American young people.
NAAEA Network members supporting this effort include:
- Asian American Leadership Empowerment and Development (Washington, DC)
- Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia (Philadelphia, PA)
- Center for Pan Asian Community Services (Atlanta, GA)
- Chinese for Affirmative Action (San Francisco, CA)
- Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (New York, NY)
- Detroit Asian Youth Project (Detroit, MI)
- Khmer Girls in Action (Long Beach, CA)
- Korean American Resource and Cultural Center (Chicago, IL)
- Korean Resource Center (Los Angeles, CA)
- Hmong Youth Education Services (St. Paul, MN)
- Multicultural Youth Project (Chicago, IL)
- National Korean American Service and Education Consortium (Los Angeles, CA)
- Providence Youth Student Movement (Providence, RI)
- South Asian Youth Action! (New York, NY)
- YKASEC – Empowering the Korean American Community (New York, NY)
Read the full letter to the Terrebonne Parish School Board here.
For more information:
Program Associate, Educational Equity and Youth Rights Project
212.966.5932 ext. 210
Khin Mai Aung
212.966.5932 ext. 219