Some HISD trustees Thursday voiced support for controversial
reforms to the district’s bilingual education program.

Among the trustees were Larry Marshall, Don McAdams and Arthur
Gaines, who already were enthusiastically sold on the policy that has
been opposed by local and national Hispanic leaders.

The policy emphasizes “the ability to read, write and speak
English as rapidly as possible.”

In his support, McAdams was prepared for any opposition that might
address research that states students must learn their native
language first before moving on to a second language.

“That is not true. You don’t learn English better when you spend
your time learning something else,” he said. “This isn’t an either-
or. It’s a very balanced proposal that sets clear direction.”

Gaines said the policy would offer the opportunity for more
students to become fluent in another language.

“I’m pleased our students will move in the direction of fluency in
two languages. We must be able to communicate with our neighbor next
door,” he said.

The proposal, which had been scheduled for a first vote Thursday
but was postponed in order for more public discussion, has caused
some Hispanic community members to compare the policy to California’s
Proposition 227, which replaced bilingual education with a year of
English-language immersion.

It includes making reading proficiency the primary goal for
transition into English for all limited-English proficiency students.

Also, it would establish a uniformed curricula throughout the
district, direct the district to develop a strategic plan to recruit,
hire and retain certified or qualified bilingual teachers, and
provide programs that would encourage all students to acquire two
languages.

The proposal also calls for the district to provide an
international high school magnet that would provide academic links to
national and international universities.

The Houston Independent School District’s board is set to vote on
the policy next month. The board is expected to hold public hearings
to discuss the proposal.

However, state Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Galena Park, asked the board
to reconsider voting on the policy for at least two months because
many Hispanic parents still would be out of town next month on
vacation.

“In our community, bilingual education is sacred just like civil
rights are sacred to African-Americans and all of us. It’s an
emotional issue,” he said. “I’m not confused by anything in this
document. On the surface, it looks great.”

After the meeting, Gallegos said the bilingual program in HISD has
been rated the best in the country by the Texas Association of
Bilingual Education. He said it doesn’t need to be changed. He also
complained that many in the Hispanic community weren’t aware that the
district was considering implementing a new policy.

“We need to sit down and discuss the issue. If they come back
with this same type language then there is no deal,” he said. “You
need to read into the language (of the proposed policy). If you read
closely it says words like ‘English only.’ ‘English rapidly.’ They
are taken from Proposition 227.”

Outside board chambers, Coletta Sayer, the Houston Classroom
Teachers Association president, accused Gallegos of emotionalizing
the issue.

“I think he’s fanning the political fire. Children need early
exposure to English,” said Sayer, whose group supports the policy.
“I think he’s the one capitalizing on the emotions of the issue.”

Board members Gabriel Vasquez and Jeff Shadwick drafted the
report.

Vasquez said the policy would strengthen HISD’s bilingual program
and open the educational program up to all students to learn two
languages.

“This formally states what we’re already doing but we’re saying we
need to do a better job,” Vasquez said. “The bold step forward is it
encourages all students to know two languages. It’s a policy for all
students.

“This policy contains no limits and no English only. If we wanted
a limit, we would have clearly said so. This is not California,”
Vasquez said.

Shadwick and Vasquez stressed that the policy adheres to state and
federal guidelines.

In other matters, the board unanimously approved on first reading
an agreement that would allow the district to negotiate with private
schools to teach HISD students who failed to meet promotion standards
in first, second and third grades.

The approval means that the nearly 8,000, or 14 percent, of first-
through third-grade students who didn’t meet promotions standards
would be eligible to attend a private school.

Under the agreement, the private school would accept the $3,575
from the district as full tuition for the student, parents would
provide transportation to the school and the student must take the
Texas Assessment of Academic Skills.

Students must remain at the school for a year and would be allowed
to stay indefinitely if their performance on the TAAS improved.

In other business, the board:

Approved contracts to start construction on two schools, design a
new school and repair 23 schools. Work will begin immediately on
$644,000 in repairs at Lewis Elementary and $250,000 in repairs at
Oates Elementary. The funds comes from the $678 million bond
program.

Strengthened the code of student conduct that bans a variety of
items that would be considered weapons from being on campus such as
razor blades, BB guns, and live ammunition.

Approved renaming Sunny Side Elementary to Ethel Mosley Young
Elementary School. She’s a longtime educator in the community.



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