Sides Differ On Federal Ruling For Texas Bilingual Education

DALLAS—A Hispanic leader accused the Reagan administration Tuesday of trying to “disembowel” the Hispanic community by scrapping liberal new guidelines on bilingual public school programs.

But state educators heralded Monday’s action by new U.S. Education Secretary Terrel Bell as their way to escape a federal judge’s recent order to expand bilingual education in Texas public schools.

“This is but one example that the Reagan administration is trying to disembowel the Hispanic community,” said Ruben Bonilla of Corpus Christi, Texas, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens. “This is a very steep price to pay for having given the Republicans the strongest Hispanic vote in history.”

Bonilla criticized a ruling by Bell scrapping Carter administration guidelines that would have required school districts to teach most subjects to students in their native language, up to grade 12 if necessary. Bell called the guidelines, which had not been formally adopted as rules yet, excessive, unworkable and costly.

State educators were optimistic they could use Bell’s ruling to block a Jan. 12 order by U.S. District Judge William W. Justice to come up with a new plan by March 2 to expand and improve bilingual programs in Texas public schools. Justice, ruling on a 10-year-old suit filed by Mexican-American groups, said bilingual programs in Texas are “wholly inadequate.”

Justice declined comment Tuesday on Bell’s ruling. But Texas Education Agency Commissioner Alton Bowen was pleased.

“Certainly, we are delighted because we thought the program in Texas was adequate (before Justice’s ruling),” Bowen said, noting that Texaslaw currently requires bilingual education through Grade 3 where needed, with grades 4 and 5 optional.

Texas Attorney General Mark White said, “Secretary Bell’s decision may have some impact upon the case in which we currently are involved. We are waiting some reaction and clarification from the U.S. Department of Justice before we can make any further statement.”

Some Hispanic leaders were more optimistic than Bonilla.

Norma Solis of San Antonio, an attorney for the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund which brought the original suit, said she is confident Justice’s ruling will withstand the federal policy changes.

“Any change in agency regulation has no effect at all on the judge’s ruling,” she said. “Texas is still required to provide bilingual education.”

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