Miranda Washinawatok: Seventh grade student punished for speaking Menominee in class

Miranda Washinawatok, a seventh grade student at Sacred Heart Catholic School in the small town of Shawano in northeastern Wisconsin, was punished for translating three phrases — I love you; hello; thank you — into her native language of Menominee during class.

The 12-year-old's teacher reprimanded her after she translated the English words into Menominee for two other students, according to the Toronto Star. Miranda told her mother that her teacher, Julie Gurta, slammed her hands down on her desk and said she wasn’t supposed to be speaking Menominee because she wouldn't be able to tell if she was saying something bad. She also reportedly asked Miranda, "How would you like it if I spoke Polish and you didn’t understand?" Later that day, the girl was also benched from a basketball game for "attitude issues."

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Fox 6 Milwaukee reported that the diocese’s director of education, Joseph Bound, wrote a letter Feb. 22 that said diocese officials wish they could change how the incident was handled. Letters of apology were also sent to Miranda from the school's principal, the assistant basketball coach and the teacher.

But Miranda's mother, Tanaes Washinawatok, who works for the Menominee Indian Tribe, found the apologies inadequate, according to The Shawano Leader. She was particularly unsatisfied with Gurta's apology.

"She did not apologize. What she has done is try to justify her actions against Miranda and diminish the character of a 12-year-old child," she told The Shawano Leader.

Tanaes described the teacher as insensitive and having an "arrogant, narrow-minded way of teaching," reported the Associated Press. She said she planned to send a certified letter Tuesday to the diocese asking that Gurta be fired.

The Toronto Star published part of Gurta's apology letter:

In an academic setting, a student must be respectful of all of the other students — language and behavior that creates a possibility of elitism, or simply excludes other students, can create or increase racial and cultural tensions … My firm reactions to the behaviours of Miranda and the other two girls were not to single out Miranda or her Native language. Rather, disciplinary actions were taken in response to the disrespectful comments and behaviors exhibited by Miranda over the course of the entire day. Unfortunately, the actions of your daughter were not brought to your attention as quickly as they should have been, and for this I apologize.

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