QUINCY — State Rep. Ronald Mariano, D-Quincy, said he will lead the fight in the Legislature to ease the state’s bilingual education rules.
Mariano, who is vice chairman of the city’s school committee, said the state’s rejection of Quincy’s request to waive bilingual education rules shows the need to ease such requirements.
“It’s very disturbing to me to see that there’s this kind of inflexibility,” Mariano said at Wednesday’s school committee meeting. “It really is handcuffing creative and intelligent ways to address the problem.”
Mariano Mariano said he wants to work with school department staff drawing up draft legislation he would like to file in January.
Mariano cautioned that there are advocacy groups that might lobby hard against easing bilingual education requirements. But he said a number of his fellow legislators have said in the past they would support such changes.
“This is an issue that’s bigger than Quincy,” Mariano said. “There’s a growing awareness of the problem.”
One part of the law that has come under criticism in Quincy and elsewhere requires school districts to provide bilingual classes whenever they have 20 or more non-English speaking students with the same native language.
The requirement holds even when the 20 students are spread between kindergarten and 12th grade.
Quincy has a full bilingual program at the elementary, middle and high school level for Cantonese-speaking students, who form the largest linguistic minority here.
But an audit by the state education department last fall found that the program for Vietnamese speakers, the second-largest minority group, was inadequate because it offered bilingual classes only for middle and high school students.
Rather than extend the Vietnamese bilingual program to elementary schools, Quincy offered the state an alternative.
School officials proposed to run so-called multilingual classes for students who speak Vietnamese or another foreign language. The city’s schoolchildren speak more than 30 native languages, including Farsi, Creole and five Cantonese dialects.
Children in the multilingual classes would get intensive lessons in English for about two hours each day and spend the rest of their time in regular courses.
The city has over the past two years run one such elementary school class, and school officials say it has worked well.
In an Aug. 8 letter, state education officials told Quincy that they couldn’t waive the state law on bilingual education. But the letter signed by Deputy Commissioner David Driscoll urged officials here to work for a change in the law.
Quincy’s proposal “could be the catalyst for the review of the bilingual statutes,” the letter stated.
In bilingual classes, students receive some instruction in their native language as they gradually master English and move into regular courses.
Bilingual education advocates argue that students who receive some instruction in their native language perform better academically over the long run.
But Superintendent Eugene Creedon and other school officials said they are concerned about the future costs of bilingual education in this increasingly diverse city.
If the state’s current 20-student minimum holds, the city will probably soon have to launch additional bilingual programs for Spanish and Arabic-speaking students, Creedon said.
Because Quincy is relatively affluent, the state provides virtually no extra money to the city for such classes, Creedon said.
The schools spend money busing students from around the city to the handful of schools that have bilingual classes. In addition, staffing costs are higher because bilingual classes are typically smaller than regular ones.
Since the state decision on the waiver request, the schools have hired two new Vietnamese teachers who will run bilingual classes at Point Webster and Parker elementary schools. School officials also plan to hire a Vietnamese-speaking aide to act as an interpreter and do outreach to parents.
At the same time, Quincy has also moved to set up multilingual classes at Parker, Point Webster and possibly Lincoln-Hancock elementary schools. The classes will serve Cantonese and Vietnamese-speaking students who know some English, and children who speak another language.
School committee members said they hoped the success of the multilingual classes would help convince legislators to change the law.