Posted by R. Neal

Here's an interesting situation playing out in Orlando. A few weeks ago, an Orange County Florida public school teacher allegedly sent a letter to a U.S. Representative complaining about immigrants (illegal and otherwise), saying "we should close the doors to all foreigners for a while."

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A Central Florida Hispanic newspaper somehow got a copy of the letter and published a Spanish translation of it. The letter, allegedly written by 20+ year veteran teacher Jan Hall, said Puerto Ricans "are trashing Orlando" and made disparaging remarks about Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Haitian students:
"Our school at Sadler Elementary where I teach is 92% Puerto Rican. Please consider changing the laws and keeping these people home in Puerto Rico. They are trashing Orlando daily.

These P.R. children are holding American children back academically, and Puerto Rican teachers can keep getting extensions on their temporary certificates so that they are allowed to teach without proper training. I can truthfully say that Puerto Rican teachers at my school ask me continually for help with math, as they do not get but the equivalent of a fifth grade education in Puerto Rico. They almost always can do no algebra and rely on the system to get by.

I find that Haitian children are more aggressive in the classroom and have not been to school regularly. Their poor conduct is yet another real problem.

In Winter Haven, FL, a large orange grove area with Mexican migrants to do the work, jobs that poor blacks and poor whites used to take are filled by Mexicans, who I am told bring in drugs and disease, such as incurable TB, for the most part."
(Ed. note: apparently Ms. Hall needs to brush up on her geography and history, as she does not appear to realize that Puerto Ricans are American citizens by birth.)

Nobody would say how the newspaper obtained the letter. Congressional offices representing Central Florida deny ever receiving any such letter. The media eventually obtained copies of the handwritten letter and published it. Ms. Hall says it looks like her handwriting, but that she will have to study it to make sure it hasn't been altered. She had previously told her principal that she wrote the letter, but could not remember who she sent it to.

Although reports indicate she had an exemplary record in the past, El Nuevo Dia, the Hispanic newspaper that broke the story, says that her problems may actually have started in 2002 when Hall sent a letter to the Orange County School Board complaining about Oscar Aguirre, her superintendent at the time. According to reports, her letter accused him of being unqualified and a "womanizer." He said that her real problem was that she disagreed with his bilingual teaching program. She has since said that her complaint was about his unsatisfactory response to a violent attack against her by a student.

When the most recent letter was made public, The Orange County School Board initially suspended Ms. Hall without pay pending an investigation. She subsequently resigned. In the latest developments, she has filed a $20 million lawsuit against the Orange County School Board claiming that she was intimidated and forced to resign, and the school board has since rejected her resignation.

The situation has created a firestorm of controversy in the community. The conservative right-wing has come to Ms. Hall's defense, adopting her as a symbol for everything wrong with America. They say that she is the victim and that she's being punished for speaking the truth about problems with illegal immigrants and that her First Amendment rights have been trampled in an environment of liberal political correctness. The Hispanic community is calling for respect and reconciliation while editorials condemn racist attitudes expressed by a public school employee. The school board is caught in the middle, and the superintendent has even received death threats.

The issue certainly raises a lot of questions:

  • Do citizens have an expectation of privacy regarding correspondence with elected officials? (Ed. note: Regardless of law or principle, I never made any such assumption, and neither should you.)
  • Who was the letter sent to, and who leaked it to the press? Did they have an obligation to bring it to the public's attention, or to disclose it privately to the school board, or neither?
  • Should a public school teacher's personal racial biases be grounds for disciplinary action if he or she can prove that their job performance isn't affected? (Ed. note: the school board thinks so, as do editorials in the Orlando area media, and I agree. It's pretty hard to imagine that Ms. Hall's classroom performance was not affected in light of her remarks and the fact that she teaches in a predominately Hispanic school.)
  • Is there any legitimacy to the claim that English-speaking children of American citizens and taxpayers are being "held back" by the influx of immigrants because of language barriers and problems with grade level performance expectations? If so, what should be done about it?

    Regardless, there are immigration problems in the South. Even the progressive community recognizes that undocumented workers and their families put additional strain on State and local resources such as schools and social services, and that some are taking advantage of programs such as Medicaid without paying any taxes into the system.

    Just yesterday, Republicans in Georgia introduced legislation to deny poor, undocumented immigrants such benefits as Medicaid and food stamps, saying "the only way to stop out-of-control immigration is to take away the incentives to come to Georgia."

    Curiously, though, they do not propose any regulation of businesses that hire undocumented workers at substandard wages with no benefits and pay them off the books. And that's at the root of the problem. Once again, society and taxpayers are expected to subsidize cheap labor for companies who exploit these people.

    Moreover, these policies are creating yet another underclass of poor minorities. The Bush administration has proposed a "temporary worker program" to address the issue and fill jobs that "American workers are not willing to do", but many see it as yet another "wink, wink, nudge, nudge, look the other way" approach to throwing open the borders to more cheap labor for corporations to exploit.

    Back in Orlando, the callousness expressed by Ms. Hall for children she has made a lifelong career of helping is disappointing. It's another example of how the poor can be exploited while some in our society show no compassion in return. The school board did the right thing in removing her from the situation. Perhaps it is time for our Federal and state governments to address the underlying problems with meaningful immigration reforms.

    OK, then.