He Said What? NYC Teacher Suspended For Spanish Curse

A New York City public high school teacher is suing after he was suspended and fined $15,000 for what school officials say was misconduct for using the Spanish curse, “coño”, in his classroom.

The word can be offensive. But that sometimes depends on how it's used and which ethnic group is using it. Its literal translation refers to the female sexual organs, according to the Royal Spanish Academy in Spain. But the institution charged with regulating the Spanish language says the word can also express "diverse states of emotion, especially surprise or anger."

The teacher, Carlos García, declined to be interviewed. But his attorney, Sergio Villaverde, said his client didn't use the word. He also claims the court interpreter mistranslated the term during García's disciplinary hearings. "The interpreter didn't understand the way that the word is used," Villaverde said.

But Bruce Rosenbaum, a city attorney, said "the hearing officer properly found that Mr. García used inappropriate language in class and that the penalty imposed was warranted."

One ethnic group's profanity can be another's everyday slang.

Among immigrants from the Dominican Republic, where García is from, the word is so widely accepted it became the focus of a popular online video clip posted by Sir Nube Negra called "Speak Fluent Dominican," where the host gives examples of the word to express: "Damn, girl, looking fine. Very Nice," "Stop bothering me!" and "I heard your mother died. I am so sorry."

The city's Department of Education accused the tenured teacher of inappropriately bandying about the word in class between 2008 and 2009 at the High School of International Business and Finance in a predominantly Dominican neighborhood.

García's lawsuit says a hearing officer inappropriately relied on a court interpreter as a witness, and that the regulation of acceptable language in the classroom is vague. "There are no list of words that are prohibited," he said.

One student testified at a hearing earlier this year that García would use the word when the classroom was unruly. Another student testified he had heard García drop it at least three times a week.

During cross examination, the student said he didn't "really know" what the word meant in English.