Bilingual Bill Called Unconstitutional

Suit threatened if legislation OKs dropping program

A Hispanic civil rights organization on Monday said Republican-sponsored state legislation that would allow school districts to drop bilingual education is unconstitutional and violates a Federal District Court consent decree.

“We will have no choice but to go to court if this legislation passes,” said Arturo Jauregui, lead counsel in the Chicago office of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).

The measure is part of the Republican 60-day fast-track legislation speeding through the Illinois General Assembly. The bill was voted out of the Senate Education Committee and is on its third reading in the Senate. The bill would allow school districts to apply for waivers from state-required programs, including bilingual education.

Among other mandates school districts could obtain waivers for are requirements to hold open meetings, to comply with the state’s Freedom of Information Act, to notify parents if their children are absent from school without an excuse and to conduct criminal background checks on prospective employees.

Only special education and teacher certification requirements would be left untouched by the Republican legislation.

“There are certain mandates that I understand are putting tremendous pressure on school districts, but many of these mandates are there for a reason, and I think the Republicans are going a little bit too far,” said State Rep. Edgar Lopez (D-Chicago).

But State Sen. Patrick O’Malley (R-Palos Park) said, “Most school districts are looking for this. It’s time to be effective in the way we do things. What works in Cairo, Ill., does not necessarily work in Chicago, Ill. I want the people closest to the people being served to make decisions about what mandates are best for their school districts.”

O’Malley is vice chairman of the state Senate Education Committee.

Currently, more than 82,000 students in Illinois are in bilingual education programs, some 60,000 of them in Chicago. By far the largest number of students are in Spanish-language bilingual programs, but Polish, Asian, Arabic and many other immigrant children also are in such programs.

Jauregui said the Senate legislation would violate a 1989 consent decree that requires the Illinois State Board of Education to revamp regulations for bilingual education. The decree, which settled a 1985 lawsuit filed by MALDEF, requires the state board to properly identify bilingual education students, place them in appropriate classes and to follow up to ensure bilingual programs throughout the state are working.

Furthermore, Jauregui said, the legislation would violate the federal Equal Educational Opportunities Act, which is widely interpreted to mandate bilingual education. The legislation, he said, also would violate the state’s own 1976 law mandating bilingual education.

“We are totally outraged by the possibility that children would be denied the opportunity to participate in bilingual education programs,” said Millie Rivera, executive director of the Chicago-based Latino Institute.

Rivera noted that approximately 30 percent of students in bilingual education programs drop out of high school in Chicago, whereas about 50 percent of students in the regular high school program drop out. For Latino students, the figures are even more striking. Some 35 percent of Latino students in bilingual programs drop out of high school as compared to more than 60 percent in the regular program.

State Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago) said local control will not necessarily work for Latino students.

“After all, how many Latinos are serving on school boards outside of Chicago? Not many,” Del Valle said.

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