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Woman Accuses Delta-Greely Schools of Discrimination in Dispute Over Language

A Delta Junction woman has filed a complaint with the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights, alleging that the local school district is discriminating against one of her children because of problems stemming an incident last fall in which the boy spoke in Spanish while in class after being told to use English.

Yahaira Espada filed the complaint last month with the state Human Rights Commission after what she says was months of unsuccessful efforts to get administrators at Fort Greely School and the Delta-Greely School District to transfer her 11-year-old son to a different English Language Learner class after the ELL teacher told the boy in October to stop speaking Spanish in class.

'No one should be treated like that.'

“My son was coming home frustrated,” Espada said. “It was very concerning to me. My son was complaining about the teachers telling him to not speak Spanish. And I was like ‘That’s his native language!’ We have the right to speak our language, anywhere.”

Espada and her family are Puerto Rican. She says they’ve been living in the Delta area for three years now. They’re among about two dozen families from Puerto Rico who live in the area because of a family member who, like Espada’s husband, are assigned to the 49th Missile Battalion, the National Guard unit that operates the missile defense base on Greely.

Espada’s complaint to the commission alleges that despite her requests, the district refused to transfer the boy out of the ELL class, and that in November the district contacted Alaska State Troopers and temporarily barred her from coming to the school.

Espada also alleges the district didn’t give her access to a formal complaint process. And she says that her son, who she says is hyperactive, was unfairly suspended from school for four days over another incident in which he did not stay in his seat as instructed.

Espada says she’s had ongoing problems getting the district to provide adequate special-education accommodations for her three children, especially occupational and speech therapy and psychological support.

“My kids have not been specially accommodated for their learning-disability services,” she said.

Espada says she’s also frustrated that school administrators haven’t been able to stop the bullying that she says her children are often subjected to in school.

“When your child is being picked on by kids – bullied, called ‘midgets, retards, crazy, because you’re special-ed,’ your frustration becomes bigger and bigger, as a parent. No one should be treated like that.”

District Superintendent Duncan Ware acknowledged that the commission has notified the district of the complaint, but he says he can’t comment on it.

Commission Executive Director Paula Haley also declined comment. Haley says the commission typically looks into complaints such as this and usually will attempt mediation, to find middle ground, before moving ahead with a formal accusation and investigation.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.