Statements made by state schools superintendent
Lisa Graham Keegan this week indicate that the end
of bilingual education in Arizona might not come
this fall after all.
Keegan told a group of Scottsdale parents Tuesday
that she was concerned more about student
achievement than whether bilingual education
continues in Arizona classrooms. Keegan has said
since then that her comments do not conflict with
the new law.
With school districts across the state trying to
decipher how to comply with the new law and
adequately serve students with limited English
skills, Keegan’s comments led some to believe she
was thumbing her nose at the initiative voters
overwhelmingly passed in November.
“She is indicating by her quotes that she is above
the law, that she, rather than the people of
Arizona, can decide the law” said Ron Unz, the
California businessman who helped lead the anti-
bilingual effort here and in other states.
Keegan has spent the past two days clarifying her
statements, assuring both sides of the divisive
issue that she will comply with the new law.
“Of course I’m going to enforce the proposition,”
Keegan said yesterday. “But I’ve never interpreted
the initiative as English-only.”
“I don’t read anything in the law that says (a
teacher) can’t speak to a child in Spanish.”
In a memo Keegan sent yesterday to Gov. Jane Hull,
state lawmakers and teachers explaining her
statements to the Scottsdale parents, she wrote:
“I am particularly eager for our classroom teachers
to feel our appreciation for the job they are doing
for our children, rather than for them to be
encouraged to feel either confused or even fearful
of the coming changes due to the passage of
“Where we have students being taught primarily in
languages other than English, of course it is time
now to begin plans for the coming change. I will
certainly do my part to uphold the law and
particularly to ensure that the academic record of
all students reflects that they are learning
English and their subject material well.”
Keegan told Hull her office still is working with
the state Attorney General’s Office to interpret
the effects of the initiative.
She said, “Specific details, such as the amount of
time that can be spent in other language
instruction or what penalties can or will be
enforced for noncompliance, are being worked out.”
“I fully anticipate being able to address those
issues well before the end of this school year,
which will give schools and teachers plenty of time
Her office has previously told school districts to
be ready to implement the initiative by the start
of the next school year.
The law effectively eliminates existing bilingual
education programs in favor of structured English-
Waivers are available but are intended to be
difficult to get.
Hector Ayala, a Tucson high school teacher who
helped lead the 203 effort here, welcomed Keegan’s
effort to clarify her recent statements because
some bilingual education advocates could
mistakingly believe they will continue current
programs “with impunity.”
“I think she’s probably not being very clear,” said
Ayala. “English immersion is the law. Anything else
is breaking the law.”
Unz was less accepting of Keegan’s recent comments
about the initiative.
“I must say I was very shocked” after reading
newspaper accounts of Keegan’s statements.
“If she feels she doesn’t want to enforce the law,
she can be sued, personally bankrupted and taken
out of office,” he said.
“I hope she does not put herself in that position.”
Jeannie Favela, director of bilingual education for
the Sunnyside Unified School District, supported
Keegan, saying the superintendent’s comments are
within the scope of the law.
“The way I read it, she’s basically restating the
law,” Favela said. “Bilingual education is
Favela said her office expects to tell the district
governing board, parents and teachers by next month
how it will implement the initiative.
Similarly, TUSD officials said a public hearing is
expected by the end of this month.
* Contact Hipolito R. Corella at 573-4191 or at