More than 100 people turned out for a panel discussion on bilingual education last week, with advocates saying children should be taught in a language they understand and opponents saying such courses are a failure.

Bilingual educator Shelly Spiegel-Coleman told the crowd of parents, teachers and administrators Thursday night that the goal of education is the same for all
children: that they be able to speak English fluently.

“If you were to go to Paris today and enroll in a computer class . . . and if you went in the class and it was taught in French and you did not know anything about computers, it would be Greek to you,” said Spiegel-Coleman, coordinator of second-language programs for Los Angeles schools. “We teach (students) what we want them to know in a language they understand.”

But English teacher Gloria Matta Tuchman vowed to continue her advocacy of teaching non-English speaking students in English.

“I’m a proponent of English immersion,” said Tuchman, a Latina who speaks Spanish. “I am bilingual, but I am an English-immersion teacher. I teach English. I refuse to teach in Spanish.”

The two educators were among four panelists who addressed issues and answered questions about bilingual education programs at the forum at G.H. Dysinger School. About 130 people attended, including 40 parents.

Tuchman, a Santa Ana teacher and Tustin Unified School District trustee who said she was representing herself, not her school or school board, said that bilingual education deserves a grade of F.

The other three panelists represented those who favor teaching in their native language students who don’t speak English or have limited English skills.

The debate over bilingual education has been heating up in the Centralia School District.

Parents have said they have no choice whether their children are placed in bilingual classrooms.

Linda Blackburn, a Dysinger bilingual teacher on the panel, said that English-speaking children are not disadvantaged by being in classrooms with Spanish-speaking students.

“We do not ignore or shortchange our English-speaking (students) nor those who speak another language,” Blackburn said. “We teach all children.”

Dysinger Principal Cindy Chaffee said the forum was held in hopes of informing parents about bilingual programs and resolving concerns.

After the two-hour forum, parents expressed frustration that their concerns were not being addressed.

“They didn’t answer any of the questions we had,” said parent David Kendrick, who has asked the school and district trustees to remove his first-grade son from a bilingual classroom. “This was a two-hour waste of time.”

Parent Cindy Hair said the majority of questions submitted by parents were “filtered” instead of being answered.

Officials said that 167 question cards, some with duplicate questions, were submitted. Only 13 were answered because of time.

Parents who support bilingual education programs also are concerned about the controversy.

Parent Patty Jansen said she doesn’t think her daughter suffered from being in a bilingual classroom. “I don’t feel it was a detriment for my daughter’s education,” she said.

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