It was one of issues that helped sink Rita Montero’s 1999 Denver school board campaign.
Now, a northwest Denver school called Academia Ana Marie Sandoval is among the targets of Montero’s campaign for Amendment 31, a ballot initiative that would require English learners to be taught in English.
Montero’s opposition to founding Sandoval is thought to have damaged her chance to be re-elected to the Denver school board three years ago. Montero lost to Lucia Guzman, a candidate who staunchly supported opening the school, where a “dual- language” program is used to teach English speakers Spanish and Spanish speakers English.
Concern about Amendment 31’s impact on the school was one of the reasons why Guzman and other Denver school board members have unanimously agreed to oppose the initiative, which voters will reject or approve Nov. 5.
The 164-student school opened last year. It falls outside the federal court order that dictates how most Denver students learn English. This means that it would be immediately subject to the provisions of Amendment 31, should it pass.
In California and Arizona, where voters have approved initiatives similar to Amendment 31, dual- language programs have survived.
But Denver school board members believe that Amendment 31’s tough legal consequences would make it impossible to grant the waivers required to teach Spanish speakers in Spanish.
Montero believes dual language would survive the initiative.
But that doesn’t mean she supports it.
She says Sandoval caters to English speakers, who use poor Mexican immigrants as unpaid tutors for their children.
“The complaint I’ve heard from Spanish-speaking parents is their kids spent the majority of their day teaching the English speakers to speak Spanish,” she said.
“For the English speakers, it is an enrichment program. Learning English is not an enrichment.”
Her evidence that the school fails to appeal to Spanish speakers is the waiting list, which includes 150 English speakers and 25 Spanish speakers.
Because relatively few Spanish speakers applied last year, Sandoval is only 43 percent Spanish speaking, even though it serves a heavily Spanish- speaking area and aims to draw half its students from each language.
Principal Joann Trujillo Hays says Spanish speakers are interested in dual language.
The school just needs to work harder at getting the word out to them.
She denies Spanish speakers are unpaid tutors.
Montero says immigrant families are more interested in learning English than in preserving Spanish.