Original URL: http://www.azstarnet.com/star/today/30830BILINGUALFLAP.html

Bilingual waivers to be voided
TUSD to eliminate them in face of state warning
August 30, 2003

By Sarah Garrecht Gassen

About 900 Spanish-speaking TUSD students will now receive English-only lessons because the district is changing its policy on bilingual education under a financial threat from the state.

Until yesterday, Tucson Unified School District elementary students with "limited" English skills who received waivers to attend bilingual classes before Aug. 20 were allowed into the English/Spanish classes.

Now, district officials will comb through bilingual class rosters and decide if students must be moved or if teachers will keep their classes but shift their bilingual instruction to English-only.

TUSD students who took the English proficiency test after Aug. 21 had to meet a tougher standard to be in a bilingual class. And that is the standard the state now seeks to enforce now despite the waivers.

TUSD has about 12,000 students who are learning English. The decision was made so late in the day Friday that school administrators, teachers, parents and students have not been informed of the policy change. Governing board members could not be reached for comment Friday night.

Superintendent Stan Paz said he's not sure how long the process will take, but the district has to figure out how to explain to the families of about 900 students that the waivers their children were granted are no longer valid.

Friday, the Arizona Department of Education relayed the message that if TUSD didn't change its mind on the waivers, the state could withhold money for
education, Paz said. Earlier in the week Paz was standing behind the TUSD policy and his belief that it met state requirements. On Friday he said it was too risky.

"We don't want to jeopardize the district's funding," Paz said.

The problem comes from differing interpretations of a policy issued last February by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne. He said in a memo that students must meet the tougher test standard in order in order to be placed in a bilingual class.

Two state legislators asked the state attorney general to review the policy. An opinion essentially upholding Horne's ability to decide the policy was issued earlier this month.

While waiting for the attorney general's decision last spring, TUSD went ahead and issued waivers for students with "limited" English proficiency and enrolled them in bilingual classes for the 2003-04 school year.

TUSD had argued that its interpretation of the policy followed state policy because it required new students to earn the higher grade on the English test while honoring earlier waivers.

If TUSD does not move the roughly 900 students into English-only immersion instruction, "there will be sanctions, yes," Horne said.

TUSD could lose funding and be disqualified from competing for certain grants and the state can take action against the teaching and administrator certificates of specific employees it thinks are violating the policy.

The Arizona Department of Education also has 45 monitors who are also trained to look for violations of the English-only law, Horne said.

Arizona voters approved the law in 2000. Paz said the goal is to move students around as little as possible while making sure children who qualify for bilingual classes aren't shut out.

For example, three students in a third-grade bilingual class of about 25 students at Tolson Elementary School will now have to receive English immersion instruction.

"There are going to be nuances in every grade level and in every school," Paz said. "We can't just make a blanket decision to comply with this regulation."

* Contact reporter Sarah Garrecht Gassen at 573-4117 or at sgassen@azstarnet.com.