A 7-year-old Tucson girl and her parents filed a lawsuit on Thursday challenging a state law that requires English immersion for most Arizona students.
Oscar and Lizabeth Morales claim in a civil lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Tucson that the Tucson Unified School District denied their daughter, Jasmine, the equal opportunity to learn after the first-grader was taken out of a bilingual education class. They blame Proposition 203, which mandates teaching most students only in English and ending most bilingual education. Proposition 203, approved by Arizona voters last year, has drawn both criticism and praise.
“I’m afraid that she will not learn English and Spanish, that she will not like school,” Lizabeth Morales said Thursday.
The suit cites the district’s superintendent, Estanislado Paz, for denying a waiver that would have allowed Jasmine to stay in bilingual education. Tom Berning, a lawyer with the William E. Morris Institute for Justice who is representing the Moraleses, said despite recommendations from Jasmine’s teacher and principal as well as the parents’ wishes, Paz removed Morales from the bilingual program at Grijalva Elementary School.
The suit also claims the district is in violation of the federal Equal Education Opportunity Act by failing to address Jasmine’s educational needs and not allowing the parents a means to challenge the district’s decision.
Paz was not available for comment. Tucson Unified spokeswoman Estella Zavala said the district does not comment on pending litigation.
Arizona school districts were left with the difficult task of revamping their language programs after the law left little room for students to enroll in bilingual education. Under a waiver process, students have to be fluent in English, older than 10 or have a special physical or psychological need to be excused from an English immersion class.
Ron Unz, a driving force behind Proposition 203, said the lawsuit sounds similar to ones filed in California. He said he doubts the Arizona suit will survive in the federal courts.
“English immersion programs are absolutely constitutional as an exclusive remedy for students,” Unz said. “There is no requirement that students have to be taught in their native language.”
Morales thought her daughter would have no problem staying in the bilingual program after her son, Oscar, who is in second grade, received a waiver.
Morales said her daughter cries every morning before school and asks why she can’t learn as well as the other students. She fears her daughter will be left behind.
“In class, she sits and she tries to learn,but she can’t,” Morales said. “I worry because I don’t want her to stay in first grade.”