Keegan statement stirs flap over Prop. 203 enforcement

Remarks by state schools Superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan that she can’t police classrooms to ensure bilingual education won’t be taught have people on both sides of the issue confused. Cholla High English teacher Hector Ayala, a major backer of Proposition 203, which ended bilingual education in public schools, said Keegan’s remarks could give people “the wrong impression.”

“Bilingual proponents are looking for any avenue to get in, and if they can point to a public figure, it might give them more courage to continue their defiance,” Ayala said. “The law is English immersion, and people have to abide by the law. I hope that people don’t misunderstand that.”

Keegan told a Scottsdale parents council Tuesday that she would not penalize districts that hire additional bilingual education teachers or try to prevent them from doing so, a statement some saw as meaning she wouldn’t enforce the voter-approved initiative.

Yesterday she said that view wasn’t so. “Of course I’m going to enforce the proposition,” she said. “But I’ve never interpreted the initiative as English-only.

“I don’t read anything in the law that says (a teacher) can’t speak to a child in Spanish.” Jeanne Favela, head of bilingual education at Sunnyside Unified School District, said Keegan’s remarks to the parents council were consistent with what’s already in the law, which is to take effect next school year.

“What’s really important to remember is that bilingual education is mentioned in Proposition 203, and it’s permitted and even required in some cases when waivers are in place,” she said. Favela said she expects many parents will request waivers for their children “because they’re worried that their kids need to be learning other core subjects while they’re learning English.”

Proposition 203, approved by voters in November, requires sheltered English immersion classes for students not proficient in English.

Both Favela and Tucson Unified School District Superintendent Estanislado “Stan” Paz said their districts were drawing up policies and would make sure parents knew about the options. Paz said he was confused by Keegan’s remarks but that he soon realized “the last thing you would want to do is add staff (to the Department of Education) to create a language-monitoring agency.”

Keegan spokeswoman Laura Penny said Keegan did tell the group that “in order for children to learn English, you have to teach them in English,” a comment that didn’t make it into news stories. “For us, the bottom line is student achievement,” Penny said. “And what we’ll be looking at is, are students demonstrating a proficiency in English and an academic ability on par with their peers?”

Penny said the Department of Education would not argue with the law requiring English immersion.”If schools are not showing progress, we’re going to be in there asking why,” she said. “And if the reason is that they’re not instructing students in English, we’ve have something to say about that.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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