My Answer is

root - Posted on 07 October 2009

Support Lori Phanachone! Stop assimilation of AmeriKKKa.

by Wendy M. Fong

I was born in Santa Clara, California and my first language was Cantonese. I think my first word was “nay,” or milk, because I used to drink a bottle of milk everyday for breakfast. I remember at four years old telling my mom I wanted to "sake phan," or "eat food," while running around the kitchen squeaking and stomping on the emerald tiles in my yellow mouse slippers. Thirteen years later, everyday conversations of "jo san, ney ho?", "sai woon," and "ho liang" became “good morning, how are you,” “wash the dishes” and “very pretty” overnight. We only spoke English. I did not realize what exactly had happened. When did we stop speaking Cantonese? I could barely even remember how to say “sock.” What happened to our language? How did Cantonese slowly disengage itself without any of us realizing that English had conquered our home?

Lori Phanachone was born in California, moved to upstate New York, and a few years ago ended up in Storm Lake, Iowa at Storm Lake High School. She is daughter to migrant parents from Laos and an honors student. Upon enrollment in the beginning of her sophomore year, she received straight A’s, including an A in English. However also upon enrollment and without her knowledge, she was classified as an English Language Learner (ELL) based solely on the fact that she listed “Laotian” as her first language instead of English.

Later that school year, Lori was given an English Language Learner test, which is used to access a student’s progress in English every year. She took the test and answered everything correctly. However, she was still never aware that she was classified as an ELL.

During the following eleventh grade year, she was tested again. In protest, Lori completed the test by filling in all C’s. When she turned in the exam early, she was forced to wait on solitary confinement for more than three hours before being excused. Under Iowa law, if a student is classified as an ELL, they are allowed to monitor him or her for a few years to track their progress. Yet the process was not clear on how a student is considered an ELL in the first place. Also under Iowa provision, students who are bound to be proficient in English are supposed to be technically accessed, but again this process was not clear on whom or not requires this provision. Although Lori did well on the test her sophomore year, Storm Lake misapplied Iowa law by classifying her as ELL because she listed Lao as her home language.

This year is Lori’s senior year, and they asked her to take the test for a third time regardless of her 3.98 GPA and high marks in all her classes— all of which are taught in English. She refused to take the test and was suspended from school for three days. They also did not give a formal written notice of the suspension. When someone is suspended, Storm Lake High School is required to give a written notice before it occurs. They have also threatened to take away her eligibility for scholarships, and participation in school activities including track team, prom and other extracurricular activities; then proceeded to revoke her National Honor Society Membership.

“The school did not access Lori's actual abilities and needs. They made no effort to test her English proficiency formally through a test or informally through an interview,” said Khin Mai Aung, Lori’s the staff attorney at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF). They merely based it on the fact that English was not listed as her native language on her enrollment application.

Presently the story is ongoing. “Storm Lake labeled me an English Language Learner when I enrolled without even bothering to test me. All I want is to continue my education without the school labeling me unfairly,” said Lori. AALDEF demands that Storm Lake High School remove all disciplinary action from her school records, assure in writing statements of further discipline also be removed, written clarification of Storm Lakes’ procedure for classifying a student as an ELL, clarification on how the school assessed Lori as ELL, and Lori’s status to be adjusted as a student proficient in English. “School districts need to have assessments that make sense and are based on students' actual abilities rather than broadly categorize based on blunt criteria,” said Khin.

As of Friday, April 8, 2009, Storm Lake School District reclassified Lori as English proficient and restored her National Honor Society membership. However, the other requests are still pending.

“We still need a lot of answers, but I feel really good that my academic honors have been restored, and I no longer have to worry about being classified as an ELL,” said Lori.

Storm Lake High School is operating under racist assumptions by violating federal and state law. The AmeriKKa system forces students like Lori to take an ELL test after misevaluation and do nothing to help her succeed. It is not for her, but against her. Sometimes I wonder why my parents felt the need for us to prioritize English over Cantonese. Is bilingualism not possible in this country? When they first migrated to the United States in the 70’s and 80’s, it was important to learn English. Speaking English was equated with proudly representing a country and it meant finding a good job. Every time I go home to see my parents, the house is decorated with patriotic paraphernalia proudly displaying red, white, and blue. It was different for my parents coming here as showing patriotism was necessary for survival. However, now is our time to fight back and reclaim our identities, our cultures, our languages. We can no longer allow English to erase us clean like a whiteboard, melt us into a pot until we drown.


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