A State Supreme Court justice has dismissed a lawsuit by a Brooklyn parents’ organization that accused the state Commissioner of Education of illegally permitting tens of thousands of immigrant children to spend up to six years in bilingual education classes.
The suit by the Bushwick Parents Association, which represents 150 Brooklyn families, argued that children in bilingual classes were learning neither English nor other subjects particularly well. The reason, the suit contended, was that the state routinely granted waivers to schools, permitting them to hold children in classes taught in their native language — usually Spanish — for three years beyond the three-year limit established by state law.
But Justice Joseph C. Teresi of State Supreme Court in Albany disagreed, saying in a decision last Friday that Commissioner Richard P. Mills had followed the law in permitting the waivers in cases where students required additional instruction before crossing over into mainstream classes.
The decision comes as educators in New York City debate the effectiveness of bilingual programs, which usually offer students no more than a single period of English instruction each day. In a report issued in 1994, the Board of Education concluded that in general, children who take classes in English fare better academically than do students in bilingual programs.
Sandy DelValle, associate counsel of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, said her organization had pressed for the dismissal of the suit, which she labeled “politically motivated,” and said was aimed at “bashing bilingual education.” It can take a child six years to feel comfortable learning in a second language, she said.
But Robert Smith, a lawyer representing the parents’ group, said the suit’s motivation was practical. “If they are not speaking English after three years,” he said, “another three is not what they need.”