Several students, parents and advocacy groups launched a legal effort Monday to preserve, and possibly expand, bilingual education in Albuquerque Public Schools.

The parties are asking U.S. District Judge Martha Vazquez to allow them to participate in a lawsuit filed against APS that would eliminate bilingual education.

The groups, which filed a motion to intervene Monday, say they have two goals:

* Help APS preserve its bilingual programs.

* Demand that the district improve bilingual instruction for more than 26,000 students.

“We are sort of representing the midpoint between the two groups currently participating in the lawsuit,” said Cynthia Cano, an attorney from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund based in San Antonio, Texas.

In March, 13 APS students sued the district demanding that it ditch bilingual instruction courses and instead teach students with limited language skills only in English.

Plaintiffs have also accused APS of improperly placing students in bilingual programs. APS officials have not commented on the lawsuit.

At a Monday rally in Downtown Albuquerque, defenders of bilingual education said that while APS programs are not perfect, teaching students only in English is far worse.

“We are here to try to mend, not end bilingual education,” said Jeanne Guana, co-director of the SouthWest Organizing Project.

The group, known as SWOP, is joined by the League of United Latin American Cities, the Albuquerque Border Cities Project and the G.I. Forum in trying to intervene in the lawsuit.

Members of the organizations said Monday that without bilingual education, children would be robbed of their cultural heritage.

“We should not have to lose out language and culture just because we want to seek the American dream,” said Connie Martinez, state director for LULAC.

In bilingual education courses, instructors attempt to teach English using students’ native language. Students also take classes such as math and science in their native language until their English skills are up to par.

Eduardo Hernandez Chavez, a University of New Mexico professor, said the programs not only teach students English more effectively, but they have the potential of enhancing native language.

“The pressing problem in our community is not the learning of English, but the loss of Spanish,” he said.

But like other bilingual advocates who gathered Monday, Chavez said he is also critical of the way APS runs its programs.

He said the district is not spending enough time teaching Spanish or other non-English languages.

The state only requires schools with bilingual programs to provide 45 minutes a day in native language instruction.

But Chavez said that in many cases students need to spend a majority of their day learning in their native language.

He also questions whether many of APS’ bilingual educators have sufficient education in the languages spoken by their students.

Cano, meanwhile, said the district has failed to make sure that bilingual programs at all schools are effective.

“The fact is the programs vary tremendously from one campus to the next,” she said.

If the groups are allowed to intervene in the lawsuit, Cano said, they will try to convince the courts to require that APS improve bilingual programs.

The groups must first, however, demonstrate that they have a stake in the case and could be hurt by its outcome.

Cano said APS and the original plaintiffs in the lawsuit will have 20 days to object to the addition of the third parties.

The bilingual lawsuit is expected to go to trial as early as January.<

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