Some parents and their advocates say they must scramble to get children out of bilingual programs in Tucson Unified School District, despite claims by the district that it?s easy to opt out.

“They should explain to parents what is happening,” said Maria Mendoza, a private advocate for parents who has challenged district bilingual placements. “(The students) are like little prisoners.”

District officials say that?s simply not the case.

“If a parent doesn?t want their child in bilingual education, it?s as easy as writing a letter,” said Leonard Basurto, director of bilingual education and Hispanic studies.

But parent Amparo Martinez said she had a hard time pulling her 7-year-old son from a bilingual program at Lynn/Urquides Elementary School, 1573 W. Ajo Way.

Her son, first-grader Daniel Martinez, was placed in a bilingual class when he entered the TUSD school in kindergarten.

Amparo Martinez, who speaks little English, said she tried to get he son out of the program last year, but didn?t know how.

She said she doesn?t think bilingual education classes are necessary because her older sons, ages 19 and 15, who also attended TUSD schools, never were placed in them.

“They speak English perfectly and went on to graduate and do well for themselves,” Martinez said.

She said she wanted more proof, so she signed up as a parent aide to observe her son?s kindergarten.

“I was told by the principal that they were teaching him 45 minutes a day in English, but that?s not what was happening,” Martinez said. “The only time they used English was for the flag salute.”

At registration this year, Martinez was determined to get her son into “regular classes.” It was then, she says, school officials told her of the district?s policy: A letter requesting the change must be written, followed by a conference between the parent and school officials.

Intimidated by “the system,” Martinez said a friend recommended a woman who could help her.

Martinez contacted Mendoza, who interpreted for Martinez and attended the parent-principal meeting with her.

Mendoza was one of three plaintiffs who in 1978, successfully sued TUSD in federal court to establish desegregation programs in the district.

She also is co-founder of English for the Children?Arizona, which wants to dismantle bilingual education in the state.

Program not always explained



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Mendoza, who has observed the district?s adherence to desegregation stipulations for 20 years, said school officials don?t always explain to parents how their children are selected for bilingual programs or how they can be taken out of them.

According to district policy, TUSD “shall not admit a student to a bilingual instructional program without specific parental permission. No student shall be admitted to such a program without an explanation of the nature of the program and the available options.”

Lorraine Aguilar, one of 17 members of the Independent Citizens? Committee, said parents could use help dealing with the system. The purpose of the ICC is to monitor the district?s compliance with the stipulations of the suit?s settlement.

The committee is charged with reviewing TUSD?s 33 desegregation schools and submitting an annual report to the court and the district governing board. Bilingual education has been a side issue to desegregation for decades.

Aguilar said she doesn?t want to dismantle bilingual education, but believes Mendoza is a good resource for parents who feel caught in a bureaucracy.

It was positive “that people like Maria Mendoza are helping to open those doors,” Aguilar said. “(Some parents) have a hard time.

“They are not knocking” either because of their culture or because they are “not well-to-do,” she said.

Dissatisfied with ?system?



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Teresa Garcia, 36, who has a daughter at Keen Elementary, 3528 E. Ellington Place, said she was afraid to deal with the system.

Garcia cannot speak English, but said she wants her daughter to.

Beatriz Garcia, a first-grader, was assigned to the bilingual program at Keen when she registered last year for kindergarten.

“I want my daughter to be able to go to college,” Garcia said, and for her to do that, knowing English is essential.

Garcia said she visited her daughter?s classroom last year and observed that children were not being taught English. This prompted her to “fight” to get Beatriz out of the program before school began last week.

Garcia said she approached school officials a few times, but didn?t receive a response.

Frustrated, she enlisted Mendoza?s help. By week?s end and before school started Aug. 17, Beatriz was assigned to a non-bilingual classroom.

“Without (Mendoza), I wouldn?t have been able to get her out (of bilingual classes),” Garcia said. “She understands the politics and how the district works.”

Garcia said her daughter is doing fine in an English-only classroom.

“She can already read it a bit,” Garcia said. “Right now her brain is like a sponge.”

Proponents defend policy


TUSD?s Basurto said he was unaware some parents in the district found it difficult to remove their children from bilingual programs.

“I can?t remember ever getting that complaint in my office,” he said.

He said the number of rejection letters from parents who don?t want their children in bilingual programs is minimal—about 12 a year.

He defended the district?s policy.

“I think it?s not too cumbersome or too many steps,” Basurto said. “If parents are going to turn down a program, they need to know what they are getting in exchange.”

He said that is why school officials request parents to attend a conference.

Alejandra Sotomayor, president of the Tucson Association for Bilingual Education, said parents also have the option to write letters of rejection in Spanish if they are not comfortable with English.

“They can say, ?Yo no quiero que mi hijo este en educacion bilingue? or ?I don?t want my child in bilingual education,? ” Sotomayor said.

Keen parent Carmen Acevedo concurred that it wasn?t “that difficult” to remove her daughter from a bilingual program before school started.

“They only asked me for a letter,” Acevedo said.

Her daughter is in a mainstream English classroom at the elementary school.

Acevedo, who does not speak English, said her daughter brought only homework in Spanish home last year.

“I want her to learn English. For Spanish, I can teach her at home,” she said.

More explaining needed



Mendoza said school officials often don?t make the effort to explain things to parents.

“They don?t tell (parents) how it?s done. They only tell them how long it will take and how teachers are qualified,” she said.

Developed in 1993, TUSD?s Comprehensive Plan for Bilingual Education has a section outlining the district?s role in explaining the bilingual program to parents.

“The school shall produce a brochure describing the bilingual education instructional program,” the manual says.

It also states that “the schools shall make a reasonable effort to provide written communications in the primary language of the parents when 15 percent or more of the students speak the same language other than English.”

“We are doing everything we can so that principals are following the comprehensive plan,” TUSD?s Basurto said.

But, he said only some district schools actually provide a brochure for parents.

The plan also calls on the Bilingual Education and Hispanic Studies Department to develop a “video in English and Spanish describing bilingual education instruction programs in TUSD.”

But, “the video has yet to be developed,” Basurto said. “It?s something still in progress.

“Eventually there are things you can?t get to immediately.”

Basurto affirmed his department?s commitment to “continue to improve” communication with parents.

Suspicions of process



But parents Acevedo and Garcia said they were suspicious of the district?s methods for selecting children for bilingual classes because officials never fully explained the admission policy. These parents? doubts are fueled by rumors that at some schools students are selected based solely on Spanish surnames, the two said.

The district says its policy is not to put students into bilingual classes based on Spanish surnames, although Basurto admitted this happened at one Southwest Side middle school.

“We found one case where we made some mistakes, where the principal had told a counselor incorrectly” to do that, he said.

He refused to name the school. Basurto said school officials found out about the error on the first day of registration and had it corrected.



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