Prop. 203 forum draws emotional crowd

The microphones didn’t work, and there were twice as many people as chairs at last night’s forum on Proposition 203 at the Main Library.

That didn’t damper the enthusiasm of audience members on either side of the issue.

About 250 people attended, with some sporting “No on 203″ buttons and others wearing green T-shirts favoring the proposition, which would require that all public school instruction be conducted in English.

The forum, sponsored by the Metropolitan Education Commission and the League of Women Voters, brought together three opponents and three proponents, who answered audience questions written on index cards.

Hector Ayala, an English teacher at Cholla High School and co- director of English for the Children-Arizona, said people should be upset that Hispanic children’s standardized tests scores are lagging behind those of their Anglo counterparts.

And Hispanic students are demeaned when people tell them they are the only ones in the world who can’t be taught by immersion.

“That’s condescending,” he said.

Alejandra Sotomayor, a local bilingual educator who has been at the forefront of criticism of Proposition 203, contended bilingual education should be offered “to everyone, not just at a few schools.”

She pointed to increasing test scores at local schools, including Davis Bilingual Magnet and Pueblo Gardens elementaries. “Bilingual education does work,” she said.

Sotomayor said she had spoken at a business forum earlier in the day, and
“people want to make sure their staffs are bilingual. This is very important to them.”

Sheila Nickolas, a Native American, said tribes everywhere have had their cultures eroded and still are recuperating from decades of English-only in their classrooms.

Proponent Margarita Garcia Dugan said the bottom line for bilingual education students is, “What are they learning? Where’s the accountability.”

She said there is “nowhere in Proposition 203 that says after one year of immersion, students would have to fend for themselves.” Instead, she said,
these students would be placed in English as a Second Language classes until they are proficient.

But opponent Sal Galbaldon, a bilingual education teacher, said the measure was drafted by a California software millionaire, Ron Unz, who successfully financially backed a similar measure in that state. Galbaldon questioned Dugan’s impression of what would happen to bilingual education students after one year of immersion in an English-only classroom.

He said Unz admitted in an education magazine that he didn’t realize he was putting wording in the proposition that would keep deaf students who communicate in American Sign Language from being able to use that language the first 30 days of each school year. It doesn’t affect only Spanish-speaking students, he said.

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