A group of parents who sued Albuquerque Public Schools last year demanding that the district cease bilingual instruction has offered to settle the lawsuit if APS will restructure its programs, according to officials involved with the case.
The settlement would require APS to change the way students are placed in bilingual classes, officials said Monday.
Currently, parents have the option of removing their children from bilingual education programs if they believe the children would do better in English-only classes.
But under the terms of the settlement offer, students would be sent to a bilingual program only if their parents or guardians chose to place them there. Otherwise, students would automatically be taught in English-only settings.
APS spokeswoman Liz Shipley said Monday the district is not commenting on the settlement issue or on the details of the lawsuit.
Linda Chavez, whose nonprofit Washington, D.C., organization is helping fund the parents’ lawsuit, said the settlement offer is aimed at increasing parent choice. Her group, the Center for Equal Opportunity, has worked to eliminate bilingual education programs, and was successful in California.
“This gives parents the opportunity to opt into bilingual programs and not have it essentially mandated by the school,” she said.
But Chavez also said a settlement agreement might not spell an end to the bilingual lawsuit.
The lawsuit also challenges the state’s Bilingual Multicultural Education Act, which outlines how bilingual programs are operated. Chavez said her group might still file a separate lawsuit seeking to alter the state laws.
Bilingual education programs teach students in their native language while they learn English. The programs can also serve as enrichment by helping students become literate in two languages.
Roughly half of APS schools offer bilingual programs to more than 24,000 students.
Critics of the bilingual approach claim that students who do not speak English learn the language faster if all their instruction is in English.
Chavez and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit also claim APS has improperly placed students in bilingual programs and made it difficult for parents to remove their children from the classes.
“They have to jump through hoops to opt out of the programs,” she said.
The lawsuit demands APS cease all native language instruction. But in recent months Chavez has hinted that the plaintiffs would accept a settlement that simply restructures the programs.
An Albuquerque attorney handling the parents’ lawsuit agrees that both sides might be approaching a compromise.
“APS and our plaintiffs have shown some indication that there may be grounds for a settlement,” Paul Adams said.
However, others involved in the lawsuit said they object to the terms of the settlement offer.
Valerie Pacini, of the Albuquerque Border City Project, said she fears many students would be excluded from bilingual education programs simply because their parents are not aware that the services exist.
The Albuquerque Border City Project is one of several groups that has joined the lawsuit as a third party. The groups support APS bilingual programs, but are also demanding that the district improve them.
Pacini said the groups were not allowed to participate in settlement talks last week.
She also questions whether the settlement would be legal if it were approved.
APS bilingual programs are structured to satisfy the demands of state and federal entities, such as the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.
Pacini said she is uncertain whether federal officials would approve a bilingual program like the one outlined in the settlement offer.
Virginia Duran Ginn, who oversees APS bilingual programs, said the district’s attorney, Art Melendres, instructed her not to comment on the federal requirements or “any general issue related to bilingual education.”
Chavez said she recognizes that federal regulators might take issue with the terms of the settlement offer.
But she said the Office of Civil Rights has also been flexible recently in allowing school districts to modify their bilingual programs.