TRENTON—A 15-year-old high school girl said Wednesday that the five years
she spent in bilingual classes after her parents emigrated from Mexico
left her behind her peers in the English-only classes she entered in
West Windsor schools this year.

“I really wanted to get out of the bilingual classes,” Sandra
Bautista said. “They told me I couldn’t because I was Hispanic. I wanted
to take music lessons but I couldn’t,” because bilingual classes filled
her school day.

Bautista, a sophomore at West Windsor High School, spoke at a news
conference held by the sponsors of two proposed laws that could all but
do away with New Jersey’s requirement that public school students with
limited English skills be taught in their native language.

One bill, sponsored by Sen. President Donald T. DiFrancesco,
R-Union, and Sen. John P. Scott, R-Lyndhurst, would allow New Jersey’s
nearly 600 school districts to set up alternatives to bilingual
education, if they found it too costly or difficult to hire certified
bilingual teachers.

The other bill, sponsored by Sen. John H. Ewing, R-Somerset, would
require parental consent before an immigrant student was placed in
non-English instruction classes. That decision currently is left to the
principal.

“The bill will return a basic right to thousands of parents in New
Jersey,” Ewing said. “That is, the right to make decisions concerning
their child’s education.” Assemblywoman Marion Crecco, R-Bloomfield,
has sponsored an Assembly version of the bill.

The bills will be considered today by the Senate Education
Committee, which Ewing heads.

Ewing struck a conciliatory note in an impromptu meeting with
Assemblyman Rudy Garcia, D-Union City, a bilingual education advocate
who is drafting legislation to preserve most current requirements.

Garcia agreed to present amendments today to the Senate committee
in hopes of coming up with a compromise.

“I’m afraid that with parental consent required, school districts
that don’t want to give bilingual education can just sign the kid out of
it and not provide the program at all,” Garcia said.

Under New Jersey’s 1974 Bilingual Education Act, any district in
which more than 20 students speak the same native language at home must
offer full-time instruction in grades K-12 by a certified bilingual
teacher.

More than 120 different languages are spoken at home by New
Jersey’s public school students, including Arabic, Gujarati, Korean,
Portuguese, Creole, Mandarin Chinese, and Macedonian. Districts have
found it increasingly difficult and costly to provide certified teachers
in each language and subject.

In the town of Old Bridge, for example, where 60 languages are
spoken by students, it would cost $ 1.9 million to comply with the law,
Ewing’s figures show.

Garcia proposes requiring full-time bilingual teachers only when 20
or more students in three consecutive grades in a district speak the
same language.

Bautista said her mother, a single parent who works as a house
cleaner, appealed to remove her from bilingual classes during her three
years in Princeton schools, after her family moved from California when
she was in the sixth grade. The family moved to West Windsor, after
her mother’s appeals were turned down, because no bilingual classes are
offered.

“West Windsor was more difficult for me because I had been in
bilingual classes,” Bautista said. “I noticed my math skills were low.”

Chiara Nappi, a Princeton University physicist and member of the
Princeton School Board, likened the placing of some foreign students in
bilingual classes to the racial segregation outlawed by the landmark
ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, 40 years ago.

The Supreme Court outlawed separate schools for black and white students
as inherently unequal and therefore a violation of the 14th Amendment.

“The parents of these children don’t have the opportunity to access
the same educational opportunities as the other students,” said Nappi,
who also spoke at the news conference. “It’s separation on the basis of
race, culture, and language.”

In the past five years, school districts have been allowed to
develop alternative programs to bilingual education. But last month,
state Attorney General Deborah Poritz found such programs to be illegal.

She gave 95, including 20 in Bergen County and four in Passaic County,
until next fall to hire certified bilingual teachers.



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