NAACP battles Latino groups over push to open public schools for non-English speakers

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A plan that would dedicate two public high schools in suburban Washington to immigrants and students struggling with English is pitting black and Hispanic communities -– usually allies — against one another.

The Prince George’s County, Md., chapter of the NAACP is strongly opposing the plan — which would take effect next school year, and cover about 800 students having English language difficulties — claiming it will pull resources from other students and unfairly redistribute them to Hispanic students. Some critics go so far as to compare the plan to segregation.

“It’s a slap in the face,” Bob Ross, president of the Prince George’s County branch of the NAACP, told

Ross believes the proposal to open two new schools violates the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that ruled separate schools for black and white students violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“It risks turning Prince George’s County into a segregated school system,” Ross said, adding that he realizes the need for better education in the county but believes it should not come at the cost of existing students.

Latino advocacy group CASA de Maryland sees it differently. The group, which has pushed for the schools, argues that it’s not a violation of the Constitution because the schools are not mandatory and are being built to provide options to immigrants

“If we are saying all [English-language-learning] students must go to these schools, that’s one thing. But we are not,” Tehani Collazo, senior director of schools and community engagement at CASA, told

Collazo said Ross’ comments that the schools would take away opportunities from some students and reward others doesn’t add up.

“We see these students as Prince George’s County students,” she said. “They are eligible for an education. The charge that funds are being taken away is a false charge because they are all of our students. They deserve access – full access – to a quality education.”

Despite the intense controversy, the facilities are not unprecedented. The schools themselves will be fashioned like other CASA-Internationals Community Schools currently operating in New York and California.

In New York, 64 percent of students at the CASA schools graduated in four years, compared with 45 percent of similar students with language barriers in other city schools, the organization said.

The move highlights tensions in Prince George’s County between the community’s black and Hispanic populations. According to the most recent U.S. Census data, blacks make up 65.1 percent of the county’s population while Hispanics make up 16.2 percent.

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