PHOENIX – Foes of bilingual education charged Tuesday that TUSD uses threats of deportation against parents who are unwilling to sign papers to put their children into bilingual programs.

At a press conference at the Capitol, Maria Mendoza, who chairs English for the Children of Arizona, said parents are being pressured by teachers and others who enroll youngsters to put their children into Spanish-language bilingual programs “because if they don’t do so, they will be deported.”

She provided no names, saying “those parents are afraid to speak out.”

Rebecca Monta?o, an assistant superintendent in the Tucson Unified School District, said she knows of no such actions and can’t check the statement’s accuracy without names and evidence.

She said no one in the district would call federal immigration authorities as a method of pressuring parents.

Mendoza and other opponents of bilingual education also said Tuesday that many school districts are flouting the law that makes English immersion the preferred method of teaching students from homes where that is not the dominant language.

Proposition 203, an initiative passed two years ago by a ratio of about 2-1, specifies that immersion programs are the policy of the state but permits exceptions and waivers.

The initiative was billed by supporters as a method of dismantling bilingual education.

That system provides course work in a student’s native language while providing time to learn English. Foes said students in bilingual education languish and never fully become fluent.

At TUSD, Monta?o acknowledged that 40 percent of all students classified as English learners are in bilingual programs despite the passage of Proposition 203. But she said the law is being followed.

“Students cannot be placed in a bilingual class if they do not meet the guidelines,” she said. Monta?o said the waivers granted are all documented.

The statute allows exemptions under three circumstances, including a finding that a child already possess English language skills that are at or above the state average for the grade level or, for older youngsters, at least the fifth-grade average.

Mendoza said neither she nor anyone from her group has gone to court to get a judge to rule on whether schools are in fact violating the law. Mendoza said she could find no one willing to pursue a lawsuit.

The bilingual foes set up their press conference not to provide specifics, but to bolster the campaign of Tom Horne, who is running against schools Superintendent Jaime Molera in the Republican primary.

Mendoza said Molera has failed to enforce the provisions of the law, and that Horne is the only candidate willing to enforce it. She also said educators want to keep students in bilingual programs as long as possible to draw federal funds.

Molera dismissed the statements, saying Proposition 203 supporters have no one to blame but themselves for the number of youngsters still in bilingual programs.

He said California businessman and anti-bilingual crusader Ron Unz, who backed the ballot language here, was lax.

The hot-button issue of bilingual education – and those who support it – is taking center stage in the fight for school superintendent, with Horne, a foe of all bilingual programs, securing the endorsement of both Unz and English for the Children.

Molera, meanwhile, is hoping to use Horne’s association with Unz against him.

He pointed to an e-mail that Unz sent Monday to reporters and others criticizing Education Secretary Rod Paige. Paige has defended the ability of school districts to maintain bilingual programs.

Unz wrote: “Paige, a black former football coach, is believed to have obtained his job largely due to George W. Bush’s intense support for ‘Affirmative Access,’ and is widely regarded as the dimmest member of the Bush Cabinet.” He said Paige has “an apparent lack of ability to master or comprehend that portfolio.”

“This guy’s attacking Bush and he’s attacking me,” Molera said of Unz. “So I figure I’m in pretty good company here.

Horne, informed of what Unz wrote, said he rejects those comments and is returning the $700 contribution he got from Unz.

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