QUINCY — The state has rejected Quincy’s proposed alternative to bilingual education, school officials said.

Quincy school officials must now hire two Vietnamese-speaking teachers and set up new bilingual classes this fall.

Quincy had asked the state to waive a regulation that requires communities to offer bilingual classes whenever they have 20 or more non-English-speaking students with the same native language.

The rule has drawn fire from critics of bilingual education, who say it puts too heavy a burden on schools. Even advocates of bilingual education say they may support easing the requirement.

In bilingual education, children spend part of each day studying academic subjects in their native languages. As they master English, they gradually move into regular classes.

Rather than start a bilingual program for Vietnamese speakers, Quincy had proposed putting these students in classes with children who speak Portuguese, Arabic or other languages besides English.

The students would spend about half the day in the so-called “multilingual classes” learning English, then return to their regular classrooms for academic instruction.

In a meeting last week, deputy education commissioner David Driscoll and other state officials told Superintendent Eugene Creedon the 20-student minimum is written into a 1971 law, and only the Legislature can change it.

Creedon said state education officials have urged Quincy to lobby for a change.

“We would petition the Legislature for a redefinition of this part of the law,” he said.

State officials declined to discuss their decision until they send written notice to Quincy.

Quincy Assistant Superintendent Carol Lee Griffin, who was also at the meeting, said she was surprised and disappointed by the state’s decision.

Quincy schools already run a bilingual program for Cantonese speakers, the largest linguistic minority in the city.

However, the state last fall ordered the schools to start similar classes for Vietnamese-speaking children, the second-largest group. The schools expect this fall to have 30 to 50 Vietnamese students who speak little or no English.

School officials say they have had trouble finding qualified Vietnamese-speaking teachers who are fluent in English.

They’re also concerned about costs.

Unlike poorer communities such as Brockton and Fall River, Quincy receives no extra state money for running bilingual classes, Creedon said.

Yet, the city’s population of non-English-speaking students has grown from 64 in 1981 to 711 last year. The students speak 36 different languages.

If the current state law holds, Quincy soon will have to run separate bilingual classes in Arabic and Spanish in addition to Cantonese and Vietnamese, Creedon said.

“We’re trying to see what it’s going to look like three, four or five years,” Creedon said. “It’s just going to be a budget breaker.”

Because bilingual classes are typically smaller than regular ones, they cost more. Such classes also often require teachers to have aides. In addition, Quincy spends money busing students to the few schools where it runs bilingual classes.

The rule requires schools to run bilingual classes even when the 20 students range in age from kindergarten to 12th grade.

The schools proposed to initially continue Cantonese bilingual classes. But if the experiment with multilingual classes succeeded, officials would eliminate the bilingual program.

As it is, many non-English-speaking Quincy students are in a program similar to the proposed multilingual classes. Vietnamese-speakers and others who aren’t in bilingual classes leave their regular classrooms a few times a week for instruction in English as a Second Language.

School officials say multilingual classes would give children more instruction in English, and in a regular classroom setting.

But bilingual-education advocates say children need some instruction in their native language to have a greater chance of long-term academic success.

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