A proposed reorganization of the D.C. school system’s Division of Bilingual Education has angered some leaders of the Hispanic community, who fear plans to decentralize the division’s operations will hurt programs for Hispanic and other students with limited proficiency in English.
“We want to send our kids to college, not to Lorton,” said Enrique Palacios, chairman of the Mayor’s Commission on Latino Community Development, who is urging School Superintendent Andrew E. Jenkins to expand rather than dismantle the division.
Jenkins, appointed superintendent in June, has denied he is trying to downgrade the importance of bilingual education in the city’s schools, where more than 11 percent of the 88,000 students are enrolled in English as a Second Language programs.
His reorganization plan, unanimously approved by the school board in August, is part of a sweeping overhaul of the school administration that is intended to give more authority to school principals. As part of that plan, the central bilingual education office would be reshaped into three offices — to address specific concerns of elementary, junior high and high school students who do not speak English.
But organizers of a campaign to keep the division intact say the centralized approach is the best way to make sure students receive competent language testing and placement. They also argue that the division has been an important advocate in dealing with alleged incidents of insensitivity, discrimination and abuse toward Hispanic students and parents.
The organizers, complaining that Hispanics were not consulted about the reorganization, have asked parents and other members of the Hispanic community to attend a meeting at 3 p.m. tomorrow at Sacred Heart Catholic Church to discuss the proposed changes. Leaders of the group also plan to meet with Jenkins on Monday.
“There is a lot of tension,” said Beatriz Otero, a parent and activist in the Hispanic community. “We all know you need some oversight in any area of special services, and I don’t think the reorganization will provide that oversight.”
Otero said she remembers when there was no central oversight office. “If there was a hearing test, and you didn’t understand the instructions, your parents got a letter in the mail saying you were hearing impaired, or you were put in special education,” she said. “I’m fearful we’re going back 20 years.”
Marcelo Fernandez-Zayas, the bilingual division’s director, said the reorganization “would be the dismantling of things without a clear idea of what would replace it.”
Doug Gordon, schools spokesman, said Jenkins has met repeatedly with Hispanic community leaders this fall to explain his plans, and has pledged to increase the number of bilingual administrators and counselors at schools with large bilingual populations.
“The key point with the reorganization is that the superintendent wants to make our services more responsive to the needs of that community,” Gordon said.
School system sources said the proposed fiscal 1990 budget expected to be released in the next two weeks contains an additional $ 1.1 million allocation for bilingual instruction.
Wilma Harvey, school board representative for Ward 1, where Hispanic enrollment is the highest in the city, said she never would have voted for the reorganization if she did not think it would “enhance” the services and special attention for students with limited English proficiency.
“I want to see a comprehensive policy that addresses bilingual education,” she said.