Opponents speak up over English-immersion

The anti-bilingual education faction better be ready for a fight.

Officials for Denver Public Schools said Thursday they will do everything they can to make sure a proposal by U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo that would dismantle bilingual education in Colorado does not become reality.

‘I would fight it as a ballot initiative because I think it limits parental choice,’ said James Mejia, a Denver Public Schools board member. ‘And if it’s voted in, I would be in favor of fighting it in court.’

Tancredo, a Jefferson County Republican, and Linda Chavez, head of One Nation Indivisible in Washington, D.C., announced this week that they will try to place an English-immersion initiative on the November ballot.

To get it on the ballot, proponents need signatures from 62,595 registered Colorado voters.

Tancredo said Thursday that his group is ready for a good battle. ‘The parents want it. They know what in the heck their kids need,’ Tancredo said. ‘They’ve been taken advantage of by the system for too many years.’

The measure would all but kill bilingual education in the state by mandating that all students in the program (mostly Spanish speakers)
receive one year of intense English instruction before being mainstreamed into English-only classes.

While the measure would affect all Colorado schools, it would have the biggest impact on the Denver school district. About 17,000 of the state’s 23,000 to 25,000 students in bilingual education are in DPS.

DPS board member Bennie Milliner believes in the new bilingual program in Denver, which was overhauled last year and is under federal court supervision.

In that program, Spanish-speaking students can stay in bilingual education for up to three years before transitioning into regular classes. Three years is an appropriate length, he said. Checks along the way monitor the progress of the kids, too.

‘If I thought this was a true attempt to better the system, maybe I could see it,’ Milliner said. ‘But this is very spiteful. We think our three-year program is a good one.’

The biggest issue to be sorted out is if the state measure would override DPS’ federally controlled bilingual program. If recent history is an indicator, the answer may be ‘no.’

A similar issue arose several years ago, when a state constitution measure prohibited busing to desegregate schools. In that measure, federal law won out and busing continued until a federal judge eventually threw it out.

‘We’re a district under federal court order that has a three-year Spanish transition program as a part of it,’ DPS Superintendent Chip Zullinger said. ‘I imagine our federal court order supersedes any action that may come from the state.’

Tancredo doesn’t see it that way, especially if his initiative would be in the best interest of English-language learners.

‘It seems to me that if a case can be made that this would improve the quality of education and do so in the confines of a one-year (English immersion program), it’s just as likely a federal judge would accept that,’
Tancredo said.

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