A day after Arizona voters rebuked bilingual education in a statewide referendum, bilingual-education supporters said they’re not about to give up their fight.
One Phoenix school board president called for districts to continue offering bilingual education in defiance of Proposition 203.

“I’m not saying that modifications or tweaking to the current (bilingual education) program isn’t necessary. I believe it is. But I don’t think gutting it or doing away with it is the right thing either,” said Robert Zamora, School Board president of the Isaac Elementary School District,
where 53 percent of the 8,700 students participate in bilingual-education programs.

Zamora said he is consulting with lawyers to weigh the ramifications of ignoring Proposition 203 before asking Isaac’s five-member governing board to adopt a proposal officially defying the law.

“Based on the makeup of the board, my proposal could pass,” Zamora said,
adding that he hopes other school districts will also choose to defy Proposition 203.

The proposition ends bilingual education, on the grounds that it fails to teach immigrant children English, and replaces it with English immersion.
The ballot initiative received overwhelming support from voters Tuesday,
passing with 63 percent of the vote. It includes a provision allowing parents to sue recalcitrant teachers and school administrators.

Laura Penny, spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Education, said the time for debating the issue is over.

“We are not going to reopen the debate. Folks need to understand this is now the law of the land,” Penny said.

The state plans to implement the law at the beginning of next school year and will form a committee of parents, teachers and school administrators to help with the transition, she said.

Marilyn Sanchez-Ayala, who oversees bilingual-education programs for the Creighton Elementary School District in east Phoenix, said many bilingual-education supporters plan to keep pushing their

cause.”Initially, I think everybody cried last night. But there is the feeling that we are very committed to language-minority students,” said Sanchez-Ayala, who added that she was speaking as an individual and not a representative of her school district. “I don’t think it’s a time for us to quit.”

Sanchez-Ayala said she has no intention of defying Proposition 203 but added that the law appears to have plenty of “loopholes” that would allow school districts to continue offering some form of bilingual education.

The biggest loophole, she said, is a provision that lets parents apply for waivers exempting their children from English immersion and enrolling them in bilingual-education programs, provided that they kids are already proficient in English.

Many immigrant children, she said, are proficient in English and therefore may qualify for the waivers.

Bilingual-education directors plan to meet Nov. 17 in Tucson to begin probing Proposition 203 for wiggle room, she said.

Jean Favela, director of bilingual education for the Sunnyside Unified School District in Tucson, said Tuesday’s vote panicked many parents of bilingual-education students who are afraid that the programs would be dismantled immediately.

“I’m assuring them this won’t go into effect until the next school year,”
Favela said.

Navajo Nation officials said Wednesday that they were upset by the vote and didn’t feel that non-Indian voters took into account the effect of the measure on their dying languages.

But Carolyn Calvin, a spokeswoman for the tribe, said the tribe has not made a decision on how to proceed.

Proponents of Proposition203 have said that Indian-language programs could continue and that only the use of Spanish by recent immigrants was being targeted.

Now that Arizona has joined California in rebuking bilingual education in a statewide referendum, Ron Unz, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who led the ballot initiatives in both states, has set his sights on other parts of the country.

Unz said New York City could become the next battleground.

Unz said there also is growing discontent with bilingual education in several other parts of the country, including Colorado, Texas, and Massachusetts.
Reporter Mark Shaffer contributed to this article. Reach the reporter at daniel.gonzalez@arizonarepublic.com or at (602) 444-8312.

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