School Committee's vote riles parents of bilingual students

As expected, the Boston School Committee voted last night to repeal a 23-year-old voluntary consent decree governing the department’s bilingual education program, outraging parents who vowed to dig in and fight the proposal.

The decision, with member Angel Amy Moreno the only one voting in opposition, came prior to a July 1 withdrawl deadline set by a federal judge, who ruled in May that the city had violated the terms of the so-called Lau Plan, but had the right to replace the agreement.

Angry bilingual activists and parents booed the committee vote, which came after testimony from parents that they feared the end of the Lau Plan would strip non-English speaking parents of their advocates. “This is not finished,” said Tony Molina, of the Bilingual Master Parents Advisory Council, an umbrella organization for nearly 10 different language groups. “If they think this is finished, they have a very wrong perception of what the parents are about.”

Superintendent Thomas W. Payzant’s proposal would continue to offer four different options for English language learners, including transitional bilingual education, two-way bilingual, multilingual and native language literacy for parents to choose.

The bilingual education overhaul is closely tied to the committee’s decision to end city funding for a several parent groups – including the Master PAC – as the system focuses parent and family services more firmly in the department’s control.

But bilingual parents fear they will no longer have native language-speaking advocates to work on their behalf, a claim disputed by Michael Contompasis, the chief operating officer for the schools.

He said the same intake workers who now evaluate newcomers and help assign them to schools have not lost their jobs. Instead, he said, a streamlined system will allow the workers to evaluate and assign students the same day, even during the summer months.

“This department wants to get out of the business of complying (with court orders) and move ahead with the business of providing creative and innovative programs for English language learners,” Contompasis said.

Andrew Rom, an attorney who has represented the Master Pac since 1979, said the group will explore possible court action to save the Lau Plan.

“Superintendent Payzant has been telling us (the new plan) is going to focus on outcomes,” Rom said. “But the last time the school department filed the required evaluations of the Lau Plan was for the 1999-2000 school year and they only gave that to us during our trial in 2002.”

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