Governor vows to veto immersion changes
Boston Globe Staff, 5/2/2003
By Megan Tench,

Governor Mitt Romney yesterday vowed to strike down any amendments attempting to tamper with the state's new English immersion law and
issued a stern warning to House lawmakers.

''I want to make this very clear,'' said Romney. ''I will veto any legislative attempt to water down the English immersion bill.''

Last week, lawmakers introduced a series of proposed amendments they say would offer school districts flexibility to implement the law. One example:
allowing all students to apply for waivers, regardless of age. Currently, the initiative permits waivers for students 10 and older.

''I wish the governor's administration and his staff would at least read the amendments I filed -- they only seek to enhance the opportunity for children
to learn English,'' said Representative Marie St. Fleur, cochairwoman of the Legislature's joint educational committee. ''I have always supported
English immersion, and I think it is a disservice to say because we have proposals, we are trying to derail immersion.''

But Romney continued to stand firmly behind the controversial mandate approved by voters in November to dismantle the state's bilingual education
law (one of the first in the nation when it was approved in 1971) and replace it with English immersion. The ballot initiative captured 68 percent of the
vote, although an array of educators, community leaders, lawmakers, and minority groups opposed it. The initiative was also defeated in several cities
with high Hispanic populations.

To bolster his stance, Romney called upon Lincoln Tamayo, former principal of Chelsea High School who led the local campaign for English
immersion and now works in Florida.

Tamayo called it the ''absolute height of arrogance'' for lawmakers to ignore the will of the voters. ''Don't insult the intelligence and abilities of our
young immigrant children, forcing them to return to the same second-rate bilingual education program that has failed to help them,'' he said. ''We
cannot escape the fact that the foundation of success in our society is the ability to speak English.''

Once students have a command of English, they should feel free to take other bilingual classes, Tamayo said, referring to the popular two-way
bilingual programs some lawmakers such as St. Fleur, a Dorchester Democrat, and Representative Peter Larkin, a Pittsfield Democrat, are trying to
preserve. In the programs, bilingual students attend classes with English-speaking students so both learn each other's language.

St. Fleur is proposing an amendment to allow bilingual students in kindergarten to join mainstream classes instead of immersion. Under the law,
bilingual students would be grouped in the same classroom for one year. Virtually all instruction would be taught in English and teachers would use
mostly books and instructional materials in English.

Larkin is proposing an amendment to require districts and schools to file quarterly reports with state education officials documenting how well students
are learning English and to notify parents of the progress. ''To ask for accountability, for there to be report card noting one proficiency in English is
perfectly appropriate,'' said Larkin, a Pittsfield Democrat.

One thing Romney and legislators appear to agree on: better certification of bilingual education teachers. The governor is also supporting a process
that will make it more difficult for parents to sue teachers who are not adhering to the law.

This story ran on page B7 of the Boston Globe on 5/2/2003.
Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.