September 15, 2008: WASHINGTONâ€”NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, a longtime math teacher and advocate for public education, today honored the contributions of Hispanic Americans to our communities, schools and nation as part of National Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated each year from Sept.15 â€“ Oct. 15.
â€œAs we celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, we must recognize the inherent responsibility of our nation to ensure great public schools as a basic right for every student in America,â€ said Van Roekel. â€œWe believe all studentsâ€”regardless of where they live, how much money their parents have, or what languages they speakâ€”have the human and civil right to a quality public education.â€
A better life for their young daughter and the search to fulfill the promise of equality in Americaâ€™s schools is what drove Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez more than 60 years ago to challenge in court the status quo of school segregation in Southern California. In February 1946, the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles ruled in favor of the parents in Mendez v. Westminster, saying â€œThe paramount requisite in the American system of public education is social justice.â€
Seven years later, in Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court of the United States reaffirmed that sentiment, declaring â€œthe opportunity of an educationâ€¦ where the state has undertaken it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.â€ In 2007, the U.S. Postal Service honored Mendez v. Westminster by issuing a stamp with the words, â€œToward Equality in Our Schools.â€
â€œToday, Hispanics are changing the fabric of cities and states from coast-to-coast and influencing all segments of American life,â€ said Van Roekel. â€œThey have become the largest minority group in the U.S., and that growth is reflected in Americaâ€™s public schools. About 20 percent of public school students â€“ 10 million children â€“ are Hispanics. And among our 3.2 million members are many Hispanic Americans who work tirelessly every day in our public schools and higher education to create a better future for our nationâ€™s children.â€
â€œAs we honor National Hispanic Heritage Month â€“ and in the spirit of Mendez v. Westminster â€“ we call on all educators, parents, citizen activists, and policymakers at the local, state and federal levels to work together to confront the most pressing issues in our schools and fulfill the promise to achieve equal educational opportunity.â€
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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing 3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.