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Keep bilingual education?

Veronica Whitney

The acronyms stand for several bilingual and dual-immersion programs facing extinction if voters in Colorado pass Amendment 31 in November.

Voters will be asked if state schools should go without the programs, most of them available in Eagle County School District schools.

Those programs include ESL, or English as a Second language, SLA, or Second Language Acquisition, and DL, or Dual Language – the last one only available at Edwards Elementary School.

Amendment 31, a proposed change to the Colorado Constitution, would mandate that English-language learners attend regular classrooms after one year of intensive instruction conducted in English. The following year they would be placed in a mainstream classroom – current Colorado statute requires that all children in bilingual programs be fully transitioned to English within three years.

A similar initiative – Proposition 227 – passed in California in 1998. The measure largely replaced bilingual education with a statewide system with one year of English-immersion instruction. Other states that have gone without the ESL programs are Massachusetts and Arizona.

The issue promises to come to a head this fall here in Eagle County, where some public schools have more than 60 percent Hispanic students. In some schools here, such as Edwards Elementary, 80 percent of the students are involved in some kind of bilingual or dual-language program.

Rita Montero, the Colorado resident sponsor of Amendment 31, says Hispanic parents want their children taught English as quickly as possible.

“As a result of the current bilingual education programs in the state,” says the former member of the Board of Education for the Denver Public School District, “immigrant children often leave Colorado schools never knowing how to read or write or sometimes even speak English properly.” The Denver Public Schools Board of Education and the Boulder, Poudre and Jefferson county school boards already have urged voters to reject Amendment 31.

“The danger of the amendment is that parents and educators won’t have a choice of how they want the kids to learn. I’m against it because it’s limiting in the way we can teach children,” says Emily Larson, Title VII grant coordinator for Edwards Elementary School.

The federal grant provides $1.1 million for ESL and dual-language programs over five years.

“It could be potentially detrimental for all of our kids because we have a lot of English-speaking students involved in the dual-language programs, too,” she says.

Immersion is important to learning a language, but it’s hard to say how long it takes a child to learn a language, says Gary Rito, director of curriculum with Eagle County School District.

“If some kids have educated parents at home who can support them, they’ll learn quicker,” Rito says.

If children are proficient in their language, research shows they’ll be proficient in a second language, says Cindy Secrist, Edwards Elementary School Principal.

“There is research to support children learning chore subjects (reading, math and language) in their native language will be proficient in the new language,” she says.

Teachers of ESL classes use teaching strategies and techniques for students who aren’t proficient in English.

“One year could be too little for some kids to learn English well enough to tackle chore subjects,” says Marisol Enriquez, an SLA and ESL teacher at Edwards Elementary. “It’s difficult to rush kids to learn in a short period of time. It can be intimidating.”

If voters pass Amendment 31, Larson says, there’s no way out.

“The real issue with this is choice,” she says. “Parents, teachers and school districts should have choice according to their student population. For example, the dual-language programs at our school came out as a community need. Parents asked for those programs.”

Discussion on Amendment 31

Who: Eagle County School District Board of Education

What: Informational session on Amendment 31

When: 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. today (public comment starts at 5 p.m.)

Where: School district building, 757 East Third St., Eagle

Note: At 6:15 tonight, there also will be a public informational meeting on Amendment 31 at Edwards Elementary School.

Amendment 31:

“SHALL THERE BE AN AMENDMENT TO THE COLORADO CONSTITUTION CONCERNING ENGLISH-LANGUAGE EDUCATION IN COLORADO PUBLIC SCHOOLS, AND, IN CONNECTION THEREWITH, REQUIRING CHILDREN TO BE TAUGHT BY USING THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE IN THEIR CLASSROOMS AND REQUIRING CHILDREN WHO ARE LEARNING ENGLISH TO BE PLACED IN AN ENGLISH IMMERSION PROGRAM THAT IS INTENDED TO LAST ONE YEAR OR LESS AND, IF SUCCESSFUL, WILL RESULT IN PLACEMENT OF SUCH CHILDREN IN ORDINARY CLASSROOMS; EXEMPTING FROM SUCH REQUIREMENTS THOSE CHILDREN WHOSE PARENTS OR LEGAL GUARDIANS OBTAIN ANNUAL WAIVERS ALLOWING THE CHILDREN TO TRANSFER TO CLASSES USING BILINGUAL EDUCATION OR OTHER EDUCATIONAL METHODOLOGIES, BUT MAKING SUCH WAIVERS VERY DIFFICULT TO OBTAIN BECAUSE THE SCHOOL CAN GRANT THEM ONLY IN VERY RESTRICTIVE CIRCUMSTANCES AND CAN DENY THEM FOR ANY REASON OR NO REASON THEREBY REDUCING THE LIKELIHOOD THAT BILINGUAL EDUCATION WILL BE USED; REQUIRING SCHOOLS THAT GRANT ANY WAIVERS TO OFFER BILINGUAL EDUCATION OR OTHER EDUCATIONAL METHODOLOGIES WHEN THEY HAVE AT LEAST 20 STUDENTS IN THE SAME GRADE WHO RECEIVE A WAIVER AND IN ALL OTHER CASES PERMITTING STUDENTS TO TRANSFER TO A PUBLIC SCHOOL IN WHICH BILINGUAL EDUCATION OR OTHER METHODOLOGIES ARE OFFERED, WITH THE COST OF SUCH TRANSFER, EXCLUDING TRANSPORTATION, TO BE PROVIDED BY THE STATE; ALLOWING A PARENT OR LEGAL GUARDIAN TO SUE PUBLIC EMPLOYEES GRANTING A WAIVER IF THE PARENT OR GUARDIAN LATER CONCLUDES THAT THE WAIVER WAS GRANTED IN ERROR AND INJURED THE CHILD’S EDUCATION; CREATING SEVERE LEGAL CONSEQUENCES IDENTIFIED IN THE AMENDMENT FOR SUCH PUBLIC EMPLOYEES WHO WILLFULLY AND REPEATEDLY REFUSE TO IMPLEMENT THE AMENDMENT; AND REQUIRING SCHOOLS TO TEST CHILDREN LEARNING ENGLISH, ENROLLED IN SECOND GRADE OR HIGHER, TO MONITOR THEIR PROGRESS, USING A STANDARIZED NATIONALLY-NORMED TEST OF ACADEMIC SUBJECT MATTER GIVEN IN ENGLISH?”

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.


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