Calling them ”harsh, inflexible, burdensome, unworkable and incredibly costly,” Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell last week withdrew Federal rules on bilingual education proposed by President Carter. The regulations, which had already been frozen by Congress until June, would have required school districts with more than 25 foreign-speaking students to provide instruction in their native languages as well as in English, at a estimated five-year cost of $1 billion.
The proposed rules codified five years of Government policy, contained in the so-called Lau remedies. After a 1974 Supreme Court decision, holding that Chinese-speaking students in San Francisco were denied their civil rights by being taught only in English, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare issued the ”remedies” which were used to negotiate bilingual education programs in about 500 school districts.
In line with his agenda for decentralization, Mr. Bell said that his department would protect the rights of children not proficient in English ”by permitting school districts to use any way that has proved successful.” Intensive English training has been used as an alternative to a full complement of courses in other languages.
About 70 percent of the non-English speaking children in this country are Hispanic-Americans. Spokesmen for the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund expressed concern that ”without a Federal mandate, local school boards tend to neglect the needs of children who do not speak English.”