Bilingual education debated in Riverside

After a heated argument, Riverside school trustees agree to consider opposing the statewide Unz initiative.

RIVERSIDE—Riverside school board members debated Monday whether an initiative to restrict bilingual education would wrongly take power from local trustees or help children learn English faster.

After intense discussion, a majority of trustees agreed to consider a resolution opposing the June 2 measure proposed by software millionaire Ron Unz. The resolution could be on the Riverside Unified School District board’s Feb. 17 agenda.

Board member Robert Nava proposed the resolution, arguing that the measure’s impact goes beyond how best to teach children who are learning English. It threatens school boards’ power to run local schools, he said.

“That’s one of the most important principles of education – allowing the school board to make decisions,” said Nava, who later added that few children could learn a new language in one year as Unz proposes.

Trustee Dana Kruckenberg debated Nava, saying bilingual education needs reform. Kruckenberg said she has visited bilingual classrooms in Riverside and found that all discussion, posters and student work are in Spanish.

Kruckenberg said she was discouraged when educators told her that children would speak English when they were ready. And Kruckenberg rejected experts’ conclusions that it takes about seven years for a limited-English-proficient child to learn the language.

“I cannot accept this,” Kruckenberg said, adding that immersing children in English produces better results.

The so-called “English for the Children” statewide initiative would place limited-English-proficient pupils in about one year of English immersion classes with “nearly all” instruction in that language. After that, pupils would move to regular classrooms.

Parents could seek waivers for their children.

Supporters say the measure will teach English to immigrant children better and faster. Opponents say some instruction in a child’s native tongue is needed while children are learning English and preparing to move to regular classes. They say pupils will otherwise lag behind in academic subjects.

Nava’s ire was raised when Kruckenberg called Unz’s measure a “Latino-led movement. ” She cited the initiative’s Hispanic co-chair, Santa Ana teacher Gloria Matta Tuchman, and honorary chairman Jaime Escalante, a famous Hispanic educator.

Saying he was “astounded” by Kruckenberg’s comments, Nava countered that support from some Hispanics hardly made the campaign one led by Latinos. And he questioned why Kruckenberg never told board members about classes she said were conducted in Spanish.

Kruckenberg said she had told administrators. Nava then questioned why she waited until the measure surfaced to tell the board.

Board members Roger Luebs and Lew Vanderzyl agreed that the measure would threaten local governance and would unleash a flood of legal action by opponents trying to block the measure if it won.

Also, they said, the measure allows parents to sue school officials who do not follow the measure’s provisions.

Several people, including members of the Inland Empire Coalition Against the Unz Initiative, spoke to trustees.

Elva Silva, a bilingual teacher at Bryant Elementary School, fought tears as she recalled her days as an immigrant child who didn’t know English.

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