Senate Panel OKs Relaxing Bilingual Rules

With a September deadline looming for the state to revise its
system of bilingual education, which has been declared illegal, the
Senate Education Committee agreed Tuesday to give parents and school
districts more flexibility in how they teach children with limited
English-speaking skills.

The committee approved two bills, which are now headed for a vote
by the full Senate, marking the first legislative steps toward resolving
the emotional bilingual education debate that has heated up in recent

One bill, sponsored by Sen. John H. Ewing, R-Somerset, chairman of
the Senate Education Committee, would require parents to give consent
before their child is placed in a bilingual education program. “This
bill says that parents have a right to play a role in charting their
children’s future,” Ewing said.

The other bill allows school districts to use part-time bilingual
education programs, instead of the more costly full-time programs now
required by law. The Assembly Education Committee will soon consider two
companion bills identical to those approved Tuesday by the Senate

Both Senate bills are aimed at complying with a ruling in September
by Attorney General Deborah Poritz, who said the state Department of
Education could no longer grant waivers to school districts that found
it too difficult and costly to provide full-time bilingual education.

Under current laws, established by the Bilingual Education Act of
1974, school districts must provide a full-time bilingual teacher for
each language spoken by more than 20 students in that district. But the
state has, for years, been granting waivers to that requirement.

Poritz’s ruling will put an end to such waivers. She set a
September deadline for all school districts to comply with current
bilingual education laws, or for the state to change the laws.

Local school officials have complained that complying with current
laws would require them to hire more teachers and would be too

“Current statutes make it impossible for school districts to
operate,” said Edwina Lee, a representative of the New Jersey School
Boards Association.

. Bill Lewis of the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s
largest teachers union, said that allowing school districts to provide
part-time bilingual programs was “too quick and easy a solution.” He
said the NJEA opposes parental consent because it gives parents veto

“Rather than a parental veto, there ought to be some other process
where a parent can appeal placement of their child in a program,” he
said. “So that youngsters don’t fall through the cracks.”

The NJEA supports a bill that was introduced in the Assembly by
Hudson County Democrat Rudy Garcia. Testifying before the Senate
committee Tuesday, Garcia urged the committee not to ignore the needs of
immigrant students.

“There are many districts that are virtually turning their back on
these LEP limited English proficient students,” Garcia said. “There’s
an anti-immigrant sentiment running across the state of New Jersey
today, and that’s one of the things I’m trying to dispel.”

But Sandra Bautista, a sophomore at West Windsor High School in
Mercer County, disagreed with Garcia. Addressing the Senate committee,
Bautista said bilingual education classes that she was required to
attend at her previous school in Princeton did not help her.

“The worst thing was, I was really not learning much,” she said.

Bautista said she was required to spend half of each school day in
bilingual classes, “against my wishes and my mother’s wishes. It was not
fair not to give us an option.”

“I came to the United States to learn English, not Spanish. I
already know Spanish,” Bautista said.

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