Original URL: http://www.rockymounttelegram.com/news/newsfd/auto/feed/news/2003/10/21/1066790053.19830.6751.7831.html

Horner called 'racist'
Rocky Mount Telegram
October 21, 2003

By Jaime Bender, Rocky Mount Telegram

NASHVILLE – A Nash-Rocky Mount Board of Education member's recent suggestion that an elementary school segregate its students by language proficiency is being called "racist" and "illegal" by school system officials.

Board member Rick Horner said Monday night that an overabundance of non-English speaking students at Bailey Elementary is causing a "critical mass" at the rural school and interferes with English-speaking students' progress.

Horner, who lives in Bailey, recommended during a curriculum committee meeting that segregation would better serve both the school's English and non-English speaking students. School officials said after the meeting that they were angered by Horner's remarks, noting that segregating students based on language proficiency is illegal and reflects pre-Civil Rights views.

"His comments were racist and very ignorant," Clemen Marcum, migrant education program coordinator, said Tuesday. "We think people should know that this is the opinion of one of our board members."

Horner said English-speaking students are at a disadvantage in Bailey's classrooms, and the problem will only worsen over time as more Hispanic families inhabit the southern portion of Nash County.

He said he was forced to remove his son Paul from Bailey because it was "impossible" for Paul to share a classroom with several Spanish-speaking students.

"It defies logic to believe that these children can be taught," Horner said. "It is absolutely detrimental to the students at Bailey when a third of the students can't speak English. It's something we'd better address now, because we're not addressing the Spanish students either."

ESL Coordinator Gloria Vazquez refuted Horner's suggestion to separate Spanish-speaking from English-speaking students, claiming repeatedly that it was against federal and state law.

"Show me where it says it's illegal," Horner said. "That's not good enough for me."

Vazquez did not present laws to Horner Monday night that govern school segregation, but she faxed several documents to the Rocky Mount Telegram and referred a reporter to several Web sites the following day.

According to state law, each school district must ensure that limited English proficiency students are "educated in the least segregative manner based on the educational needs of the student," and that those students should be included in all aspects of the regular school program "in which they can perform satisfactorily."

The federal Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 prohibits specific discriminatory conduct, including segregating students on the basis of race, color or national origin. The law also requires school districts to take action to overcome students’ language barriers that impede equal participation in educational programs.

Horner's remarks were sparked by information presented to the committee by Vazquez on the status of language minority students, which includes those with both limited and fluent English proficiency.

According to Vazquez, Bailey far exceeds all other Nash-Rocky Mount schools in the number of language minority students. The school's student body of 644 includes 224 students who speak Spanish in their homes, and only 38 of those are fluent in English, which means that more than one-third of the population of the school has not mastered English.

Southern Nash Middle and Southern Nash High schools also ranked high in language minority levels, Vazquez said.

In all schools combined, 1,122 students are classified as Language Minority, she said. Of those, 782 have limited English proficiency, and 340 demonstrate fluent proficiency. Spanish is the most common foreign language spoken among students, followed by Arabic.

Vazquez said many limited English proficiency students who enter Bailey's pre-kindergarten program end up falling out of that category by second or third grade. Most of the school's limited English proficiency students are in pre-K, kindergarten and first grade, and statistics show that those numbers dwindle significantly as students reach middle and high school levels.

Bailey Elementary's limited English proficiency population is 187. Its feeder school, Southern Nash Middle, has 75 limited English proficiency students. Southern Nash High School has 63 limited English proficiency students.

"It's amazing how well students can absorb language acquisition at an early age," Vazquez said.

Language minority students represent an ever-changing population at Nash-Rocky Mount Schools, she said. New students enter and leave the system each year, and several students in that category come from migrant families that move around frequently. Bailey's student population fluctuates weekly, school officials said.

Bailey principal Georgia Dixon was not present at Monday's meeting and declined to comment on Horner's remarks.

Horner is serving his third term on the board. He is not a member of the curriculum committee.