Schools: Don't panic over bilingual ed vote

As parents worry and students get angry, educators are trying to figure out the immediate impact of last week’s voter approval of Proposition 203, which dismantles the state’s bilingual education system.

Parents shouldn’t panic, school officials said. “Right now, what we’re teaching at school has not changed,” said Sunnyside Unified School District spokeswoman Monique Soria. “The day after the election (was) the same as the day before – nothing has changed.”

State officials expect the proposition will take effect next fall, but say it could be delayed.

“We are always willing to adjust our time line . . . Look at AIMS,” said state Department of Education spokeswoman Laura Penny.

She was referring to state delays and adjustments with Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards test. “We’re not going to do anything to compromise our children,” Penny said.

She said her department also must get legal opinions on several parts of the proposition, and that with the holiday season approaching, state officials probably won’t be able to meet with school district officials statewide until January.

Among the legal issues that must be addressed are the definition of English immersion and whether tribal sovereignty supersedes state law in this case.

Bilingual education allows for students who are not proficient in English to be taught in both their native language and English, with the goal of becoming proficient in English and going into mainstream English-only classes.

Backers of Proposition 203 claim that in Arizona’s system, it takes too long to make students proficient in English, causing more of them to drop out of school. The proposition replaces bilingual programs with a one-year English immersion program.

Local school districts hit hardest by passage of the proposition are Tucson Unified School District, with 11,400 students in bilingual programs, and Sunnyside, with 3,200 students in such programs.

After being inundated with calls since Tuesday’s election, TUSD Superintendent Stan Paz issued a statement informing parents of the waiver option in 203 and assuring them the district is developing an English-immersion program.

But Penny said it is too early to know exactly how the waivers will work.

Hector Ayala, a Cholla High School English teacher and a leader in getting 203 on the ballot, has said waivers will be harder to get in Arizona than in California, where voters ended bilingual education a couple of years ago.

Eduardo Olivas, a bilingual teacher for 19 years, had to face some irritated students when he arrived at school after the proposition passed.

“They were angry at me because I told them it wasn’t going to pass,” Olivas said of his classes at Roskruge Bilingual Magnet Middle School.

“But I tell them history is on our side. I say, ‘They have voted our language rights away before and we won in court, so there is nothing to worry about,’ ” he said.

He was referring to a measure passed by state voters several years ago requiring federal employees to speak only English on the job. It was promptly ruled unconstitutional.

Anna Manzano, a second-grade teacher at Roskruge Elementary School, said the mother of one of her students “was (worried) about bringing her children to school Wednesday. She thought it was going into effect right away. It worried her so much she didn’t want to send her son to school.”

State education officials also will look for direction from California. Some schools there are reporting improved test results by former bilingual students.

“It would be foolish not to talk to some of their schools that seem to have found success (without bilingual education),” Penny said.


Under Proposition 203, students can apply for a waiver allowing them to enroll in a standard bilingual education class.

A waiver may be granted under any of these circumstances:

– The child already has good English language skills, as measured by oral evaluation or standardized tests of English vocabulary, comprehension, reading and writing.

– The child is 10 or older and the school principal and staff believe an alternate course of study would be better suited to overall educational progress.

– The child already has been in an English-language classroom for at least 30 days and the principal and staff subsequently decided she has such special and individual physical or psychological needs – beyond the lack of English proficiency – that an alternate course of study would be better suited to her overall educational development and rapid acquisition of English.

The waiver application must include the signatures of the school principal and the district superintendent.

The waiver is subject to examination and approval by the school district superintendent and review by the school board. And it ultimately could even be reviewed by the Arizona Department of Education.

To receive a waiver, a child’s parent or guardian must visit the school and request it after learning the full description of the educational materials that will be used in the school’s programs.

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