Hispanic community leaders yesterday denounced School Superintendent Andrew E. Jenkins’ reaction to a controversy over bilingual education, calling it an “insult” to all Hispanic citizens in the District.
During a news conference outside the D.C. Office of Latino Affairs, Hispanic leaders angrily accused Jenkins of deliberately hiding his plans for bilingual education and vowed to continue protests. Jenkins said the leaders were mistaken in believing that he had intended to decide the matter by yesterday.
“If it’s necessary to take actions in the street, we are ready,” said Boris Canjura, president of the Council of Hispanic Agencies in the District, which represents about 15 Hispanic community organizations. “We’re not sitting down on this issue. The only place we’ll be sitting is outside Dr. Jenkins’ office.”
In another development, Jenkins said he is studying a request by school board member Wilma R. Harvey (Ward 1) to keep a central bilingual office intact. “I have heard the cries of the Hispanic community,” said Harvey, who had voted for Jenkins’ plan to reorganize the school administration, including bilingual programs. Harvey, who represents the area of the city where Hispanic enrollment is highest, is the first board member to publicly question Jenkins’ bilingual education strategy.
Hispanic leaders have met with Jenkins twice in the last week to express concern over the dismantling of the Division of Bilingual Education and the creation of three offices to serve elementary, junior high and high school students who do not speak English.
Jenkins, with unanimous school board support, has said repeatedly that the moves will enhance services to non-English-speaking students — the fastest-growing population in the District’s school system. Hispanic leaders have argued that the changes will hurt bilingual programs.
Their outraged comments came two hours after Jenkins released a one-page statement that did not discuss three requests they brought to Jenkins last week, but stated “policy will be implemented and all needs and concerns will be attended.”
Hispanic officials said they expected Jenkins to resolve the bilingual education controversy, which has been building since last week. Beatriz Otero, spokeswoman for a coalition of Hispanic parents, called Jenkins’ statement “bland and insulting.”
Jenkins reacted with dismay late yesterday to the charges, saying, “I never intended to indicate we would have a resolution today, and I certainly had no intention of insulting the community.” Jenkins said he is continuing to study the issue. But he would not predict when he will make a decision.
One request appears to be at the center of the controversy: that Jenkins not touch bilingual services until a task force submits a comprehensive plan on bilingual education. That group is not scheduled to complete its work until June, and Jenkins appears unwilling to agree to the request. “I am going to be making some alternative recommendations to them,” Jenkins said yesterday.
School board members have said that compliance with that demand could be a devastating blow to Jenkins’ reorganization, designed to diminish the role of the central administration and hand principals more authority.
High-ranking school officials continue to suggest privately that Hispanic protests have been orchestrated by bilingual officials, a charge Hispanic leaders deny.
Otero also said yesterday that the protesters have discussed the issue with the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund and the Hispanic Congressional Caucus. “He [Jenkins] needs to make a decision,” Otero said. “We hope we don’t have to go over his head, but we will if that’s what it takes to get him to make a decision.”