Board OKs beefed up bilingual ed ballot title

Stronger wording conveys how tough it will be to get waivers

A newer, blunter ballot question was approved Wednesday for a Colorado constitutional amendment that would ask voters to restrict bilingual education.

The amendment would require English language learners to be taught in English unless they received waivers from the school.

The wording approved Wednesday more strongly states that it could be difficult to obtain these waivers, which would allow bilingual education — or native language instruction — for English language learners who met certain conditions.

Supporters are trying to get the amendment on the November ballot.

But opponents still have five days to appeal Wednesday’s decision to the Colorado Supreme Court.

Opponents, who have formed a committee called English +, said they had yet to decide whether to appeal the language approved Wednesday by the Title Board, a three-member state panel that words ballot questions, or titles, with input from supporters and opponents.

“When you get language handed you when you walk in the door, it doesn’t give you much time to discuss what its ramifications are,” said Beverly Ausfahl, an opponent.

Wednesday’s outcome satisfied Thomas Lyons, an attorney for English 4 the Children, a committee that supports the initiative.

“I think the objective is to get the title,” he said. “I think the title is set. We’ll see what happens from here.”

Much of Wednesday’s discussion centered on an April 8 Colorado Supreme Court ruling that addressed the waivers. The decision found ballot language that the Title Board had previously approved was “misleading” because it did not “sufficiently inform the voters of the parental-waiver process and its virtual elimination of bilingual education as a viable parental and school district option.”

Title Board member and solicitor general Alan Gilbert on Wednesday proposed wording the ballot question so that it said waivers were “very difficult” to get.

“I would never suggest something like this except for the Supreme Court opinion,” he said.

The initiative would require English language learners to spend no more than a year in “sheltered English” classes, learning English alongside peers with similar language skills.

English would be the language of instruction of these classes, but teachers would gear lessons toward children who were just learning the language.

Parents could get waivers from these requirements for children with special needs, children over the age of 10 and children with good English skills. But the waivers could be denied for any reason. And no school would be required to offer bilingual education to students with waivers unless 20 waivers were granted at a grade level.

If their school failed to offer bilingual education, students with waivers could transfer to a school that did. But schools would be under no obligation to offer free transportation to these students.

If families sued to enforce the initiative, school employees or board members who “willfully and repeatedly” refused to follow the requirements could be “held personally liable” for the families’ attorneys’ fees and damages.

If found liable by the courts, school board members and school employees would fired and barred from “holding any position of authority” in Colorado government or schools for five years.

Parents who were granted waivers under the amendment could sue for up to 10 years if they later found the waivers were wrongly granted, injuring “the education of their child.”

Contact Holly Yettick at (303) 892-5082 or yettickh@RockyMountainNews.com.



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