TYLER, Texas—A federal judge Monday ordered Texas public schools to expand bilingual education programs for more than 200,000 Mexican-American children whose language and cultural heritage have been ”treated with intolerance and disrespect.”
U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice blamed the state’s public schools for creating ”a learning disability which will continue to impede Mexican-American children” until the programs are improved.
Justice described the present bilingual program as ”seriously flawed” because it excludes at least 20,000 Spanish-speaking children in need of assistance. School districts are not qualified to provide bilingual education where there fewer than 20 students in any single grade speak the same foreign language as their native tongue.
”Prejudice and deprivation remains a significant obstacle to equal educational opportunity” for Spanish-speaking children in the state, he said.
”Both the language and the cultural heritage of these children were uniformly treated with intolerance and disrespect.”
Recent surveys show there are 219,000 Mexican-American students enrolled in Texas schools plus as many as 10,000 illegal aliens. But because of the state exemption for some schools, only 199,000 are being taught basic skills in Spanish or are enrolled in classes that teach English as a second language.
But Justice ruled that the three years of basic courses the schools currently offer in Spanish are inadequate for many youngsters. He said the state has a duty to take necessary steps to overcome the special problems of thesestudents.
Justice ordered lawyers for both sides in a 10-year-old suit to meet before Jan. 29 to try and develop a plan to solve the problem. If the two sides agree, their plan is to be submitted to Justice by March 2. If not, they are to submit seperate proposals by March 9.
Hispanic leaders heralded the opinion as long overdue.
”We believe it is the first step on the road back to educational equality for Hispanic Americans,” said Ruben Bonilla, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens.
”The decision, if implemented, should facilitate the entry of Hispanics into the business and political world through mastery of the English language.”
Education officials accepted the ruling with equanimity, although some voiced worries about the availability of enough teachers to expand programs.
Justice acknowledged there was no quick fix for the problem.
”The tragic legacy of discrimination will not be swept away in the course of a day or a week or a single school year. But these children deserve, at the very least, an opportunity to achieve a productive and fulfilling place in American society,” he said.
”The more quickly the ethnic injustices of the past can be overcome, the sooner this nation can face, as one people, the challenges of the future.”