The Board of Education is expected to approve today the first major overhaul of bilingual education in nearly three decades.

The historic move would increase choices for students who do not speak English fluently and beef up instruction in English.

The plan by Schools Chancellor Harold Levy represents a compromise between supporters, who say bilingual education is a vital steppingstone for immigrant children to learn English, and critics, including Mayor Giuliani,
who say it holds those students back.

The movement to revamp bilingual education picked up steam after a Board of Education study last year revealed some students languished in bilingual classes for as long as nine years.

Key points of Levy’s $75 million plan include ending the automatic assignment of students to bilingual classes and telling parents they don’t have to keep their children in bilingual education ? a common complaint. The plan would also move students into regular classes within three years.

Last week, in an effort to avoid a legal fight, Board of Ed members added a carefully worded resolution ? and then immediately disagreed over what it meant.

Irving Hamer ? the board’s Manhattan representative, who favored less sweeping changes ? said the resolution would modify Levy’s plan and leave intact automatic placement of students in bilingual classes.

But board president William Thompson said the measure would emphasize to parents that they are entitled to bilingual classes, if they want them.

Ninfa Segarra, one of two mayoral appointees to the seven-member board,
conceded “there is some grayness” in the resolution.

But she said it was aimed at avoiding a collision with a 1974 court ruling that created bilingual classes and mandated that students who fail a language competency test be automatically placed in them.

“With those constraints, we were trying to push the envelope on parental choice,” Segarra said yesterday.

The Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, which argued the original lawsuit, has vowed to challenge in court any move to curtail automatic placement of students in bilingual classes.

Highlights of Levy’s Plan

End automatic placement of students who do not speak English in bilingual classes.
Clearly inform parents of children not fluent in English of their right to choose among the four types of classes:
? Bilingual, taught mostly in the student’s native language;
? English as a Second Language, taught mostly in English;
? Intensive ESL, a new option;
? Dual language, taught on alternate days in English and another language.
Limit bilingual and ESL classes to the state-mandated three years. Require waivers for extensions.
End switching of students between bilingual and ESL classes.

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