Border school districts report no requests for English-only waivers
Associated Press --Arizona Republic
Apr. 9, 2003 07:45 AM

TUCSON - In two border communities where most households speak Spanish,  school officials report no requests for waivers to allow students to learn in the language they speak at home.

Students across Arizona who speak Spanish in their homes learn in classrooms where their teachers are prohibited from using any language other than English. The law behind this policy was approved by Arizona voters in 2000.

The law has drawn complaints in parts of Tucson and Phoenix, where bilingual education advocates say students are suffering from tougher new requirements for English immersion.

But in Arizona's border communities, a lack of requests for students to be taught in bilingual classrooms serves to illustrate that many parents there accept the state's English-only policy.

More than 6,000 of the Nogales School District's 6,300 students are Hispanic. Yet there is no record of any requests for the waivers that would enable students to learn some of their math, reading and other subjects in Spanish, according to the state Department of Education. The same is true for the Douglas Unified School District, which has about 4,500 students.

By comparison, the Tucson Unified School District, which has more than 62,000 students, submitted 3,296 waiver requests this year, said Amy Rezzonico, a Department of Education spokeswoman.

And among the nearly 15,000 students at Sunnyside Unified School District, which stretches across southern Tucson, there were about 1,400 waiver requests this year, Rezzonico said.

The reason for the lower proportion of waiver requests in border communities may be that parents there see English as a vital skill that their kids need to learn, officials said.

"Most parents are very good Spanish speakers, better than the teachers, and they feel Spanish is prevalent enough. They want their kids to learn English desperately, and they don't see this as a situation where something has been taken away," said Javier Barajas, a principal at Mary Welty Elementary School in Nogales.

Barajas, a former bilingual teacher, oversees a campus where English-only rules appear confined only to the classroom and bilingualism reigns in most informal settings - student-teacher interaction, ceremonies and assemblies.

Although he insists that bilingual education is an effective way to teach non-English speakers the language, Barajas said that despite the English-only efforts, border students continue live in a world dominated by spoken Spanish.

Still, there's no push to bring teaching in Spanish back to the classroom.

"I think it's important for them to learn both languages, but Spanish they have from birth," said Lorenzo S. McGrew, who emigrated from Mexico to Douglas, where the last of his five children attends middle school. "I expect the school to teach my boy in English, so he can benefit in the future... Spanish he'll learn at home."