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Educators disagree on English-only outside class

The state school chief’s support of speaking only English to non-English-proficient students even on playgrounds, in cafeterias and on buses has some local educators concerned.

They say they will continue to speak Spanish to students outside the classroom.

Jaime Molera last week lent his support to officials in the Phoenix-area Isaac Elementary School District, who stopped short of banning Spanish at P.T. Coe Elementary, but strongly suggested teachers there should use English almost exclusively, including outside the classroom.

Tucson-area educators say that is neither the intent nor mandate of Proposition 203, passed by voters in 2000, requiring English immersion for most learning the language. Sunnyside Unified School District spokeswoman Monique Soria said Prop. 203 mandates speaking English only in a structured immersion class. It doesn’t mandate Spanish not be spoken anywhere in school.

“In our structured English immersion classes, instruction is in English only, however Spanish is spoken on the playground, at recess, to praise students. That will not change,” Soria said.

Assistant Superintendent Richard Hooley of Amphitheater Public Schools said he didn’t think it would be possible or prudent to try to keep Spanish off the playgrounds.

“In our community where we have so many folks whose primary language is Spanish, I don’t think we would even want to control that.”

The director of Tucson Unified School District’s Bilingual Education Department, Leonard Basurto, concurred.

“The law says nothing about what can happen on the playground, on the school bus. The law simply covers instruction,” he said.

“That means it could apply on the bus if a class was on a field trip and the teacher was teaching subject matter, or even on the playground if a teacher was doing a science lesson.

“But if children are on playground and the bell hasn’t rung, they have a right to use as much Spanish as they like,” he said, “and I don’t think Jaime Molera is saying anything different.”

Actually, Basurto said, the law doesn’t have any prohibition on what language the child uses.

The prohibition is on what language the teacher uses.

“I understand Molera’s ideas on speaking English even outside the classroom, but I don’t agree that children should be prohibited from using a language other than English in the school. The law doesn’t deny them that,” he said.

TUSD is in full compliance, and is implementing the law, Basurto said.

But he said students will learn the state standards best if they understand the instruction. “If they understand it, it will show on the AIMS test.”

That’s where he and Molera don’t agree. Molera said Coe Elementary’s attempt to follow the spirit of Prop. 203 by reducing the use of Spanish on campus should help English learners.

“Learning to speak English well and quickly is the swiftest path to academic success and ensured literacy before third grade,” Molera said.

“I encourage teachers and staff to speak to students in English at school as much as possible. . . . In order to succeed, all students must have a strong foundation in English.”

“To the critics who say it’s hurting them, there’s so much information that says these kids are falling further and further behind.

“What the Isaac district superintendent is saying is his teachers are good role models. The test scores at the school were low and they want to focus on academics and that was one way to do it.”

Molera said he is proud of his Mexican-American culture.

But he is making sure his young daughter knows English.

“I want to make sure she is proficient in English so she will do well in school.”

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