A Texas judge overseeing a child-custody case told a Mexico native that speaking only Spanish at home constituted abuse of her 5-year-old daughter.
Hispanic groups in Amarillo are chastising the judge for ordering Marta Laureano to speak English to her kindergartner.An order by state District Judge Samuel C. Kiser does not prohibit Laureano from speaking Spanish at home. Instead, Kiser on Aug. 16 ordered the mother to speak English in conjunction with Spanish.
Language became an issue in the child-custody case when the girl's father said the only English she was learning was what he taught her.
Timothy Garcia was seeking rights for unsupervised visits with his 5-year-old daughter, who speaks very little English. Kiser granted the father's request.
At a hearing this summer, Kiser equated lack of English proficiency with ignorance and abuse.
"If she starts first grade with the other children and cannot even speak the language that the teachers and the other children speak, and she's a full-blood American citizen, you're abusing that child and you're relegating her to the position of a housemaid," Kiser said, according to a transcript of the hearing.
Kiser studied in South America as a college student and said he occasionally speaks Spanish to his children at the dinner table.
Laureano, who was born and raised in Mexico, speaks English fluently. But she said she uses Spanish at home because she wants her daughter to grow up bilingual.
"I am giving her an advantage that not everybody has," she said.
But Garcia defended the judge.
"He was fair," the father said. "He was fair to both of us."
Angry Hispanic leaders say the judge overstepped his authority. Teachers say the case illustrates misconceptions about bilingual education.
Ann Prichard, director of bilingual education for the Amarillo Independent School District, said teachers use the strengths of a child's native language to teach academic skills.