Activists take cue to put English on ballot
Bilingual education does harm, foes say


John Sanko
Denver Rocky Mountain News
Wednesday, July 4, 2001, FRONT PAGE

Bilingual-education opponents took a first step Tuesday to getting their plan for dismantling the program on the 2002 general election ballot.

Former Denver School Board member Rita Montero and others who think bilingual education has done more harm than good appeared before legislative staffers to discuss wording for a pair of possible ballot issues.

The measures would replace Colorado's bilingual program with "sheltered English immersion." After a one-year transition, youngsters would be taught in English.

Proponents of the English-immersion approach don't need to change the wording in their ballot measures, but the meeting with legislative staffers was designed to make them aware of potential problems.

The staff raised such questions as whether the measures might create a new constitutional duty to provide children with "the skills necessary to become productive members of society."

Who determines if a teacher has "a good working knowledge of the English language" as the ballot measures demand, staffers asked.

They also wanted to know whether the phrase, "child who does not speak English" might include someone who is deaf.

Attorney Bob Ferm, who represented the measures' proponents at the hearing, said those issues would be taken under advisement and dealt with.

Such meetings are required before proposed ballot issues can be filed with the secretary of state. Eventually, proponents will need 80,571 signatures to get on next year's ballot.

"We plan to go full speed ahead," Montero said outside the hearing. "We haven't heard much reaction from the opposition, but frankly, we don't care. We think this will go to the electorate and we have some general idea they're in favor of this. It's a long overdue initiative."

Last year, a court challenge knocked a similar proposal off the ballot.

Critics of the effort, including State Board of Education member Gully Stanford and former state Rep. Phil Hernandez, now executive director of human rights and community relations for Denver, sat through the informal hearing, but were not allowed to testify.

"We already have solutions," Stanford said after the meeting. "I think it's obnoxious, it's arrogant and it's an attempt by outsiders to foist on Colorado solutions that are not appropriate to our needs."