Activists rally to prevent bilingual changes at DPS

Hispanic groups lead protest of cutbacks in classes for 12,000 Spanish speaking kids

Hispanic education activists Tuesday blasted proposed changes in bilingual education in Denver Public Schools.

Leaders of several Hispanic organizations and more than 100 supporters gathered outside DPS headquarters to demand that the district not reduce Spanish-language instruction for the 12,000 students in Denver schools who are not proficient in English.

”We will not be insulted this way,” said Nita Gonzales, a political activist who runs a private school for Hispanic students.

The criticism is premature, district officials said. The school board is not satisfied with the results of its bilingual programs, and a new program is being developed as part of a federal court order.

”This is very much a work in progress,” said Sue Edwards, acting school board president. ”There will be opportunity for community input.”

Critics included members of the district’s Hispanic Education Advisory Council, the Latino Education Coalition, state Rep. Nolbert Chavez and Paul Sandoval, a former school board member and former state senator.

Most of the opposition stems from proposals to immerse students in English rather than allowing them to rely on their native language. Critics said immersion results in poor understanding and discourages students.

The activists also said DPS will move students too quickly into English-
only classes. For instance, they say, DPS would consider students proficient in English if they can speak common phrases. A more thorough evaluation is necessary, they said.

”They want to learn English,” said Lu Linan, a bilingual teacher at West High School. ”It’s not about that. It’s about literacy.”

Edwards said students’ abilities wouldn’t be determined solely on conversational skills. She said no hard and fast time limits will be set on how long a student may remain in bilingual programs.

”It depends on the student,” she said.

Rita Montero, the only Hispanic board member, said she expects few major changes in the program. However, she wants students to be moved out of the program faster than they have been, but in no less than three years.

She also wants to let parents keep their children out of the program if they wish.

”That’s important to me,” Montero said.

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