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Mitt pushes English program: Lynn, others, want delay on immersion
The Daily Item

Friday, January 24, 2003
By Jill Ricker

Gov. Mitt Romney will not delay the September implementation of English immersion despite many urban communities saying they do not have the  money to make the programs happen, a spokesman said Thursday.

The response comes after Lynn, Revere and 17 other school districts asked Romney's administration for a delay in immersing bilingual students into English-only classes. The districts urged that immersion programs be phased in over three years.

"We don't support that," Governor's Office spokesman Shawn Feddeman said. "English immersion is now the law. It was passed overwhelmingly by voters in November at the ballot box."

Lynn Superintendent of Schools Nicholas Kostan and several other members of the Urban Superintendent's Network signed a letter to Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey saying the initiative is too costly and too complicated to begin this fall.

Members of the network reportedly wrote the letter after Healy encouraged them to suggest regulations that could be eased to save money.

Jack Whelan, bilingual programs director for the Lynn Public Schools, explained how the letter came about.

"Dr. (Wilfredo) Laboy, who I believe is the superintendent in Lawrence, authored the letter, which the group agreed with," he said. "My understanding is it states that if finances aren't there to train the teachers to implement it, we need some time."

Whelan said the letter should not be misconstrued as an unwillingness to comply with the law, which calls for replacing bilingual programs with one-year, all-English classes in all Massachusetts public schools. Pro-bilingual activists last year estimated the statewide cost to institute the English immersion program at $125 million.

"We're not trying to avoid implementing the law, we just want to do it without harming the kids," Whelan said. "At a time when the finances may call for layoffs, we can't go out and then hire additional staff that this could require."

Deputy Superintendent Raymond Bastarache agreed.

"We are certainly willing to go along with the mandate, it's just that it's very difficult to transition a child into regular education without providing staff development," he said. "We are asking for a moratorium or at least a phasing-in over a two or three year period."

Feddeman said implementing the program should not deplete the already strained local budgets.

"I think it actually saves money," she said. "The lieutenant governor has been meeting with mayors and town officials, working hard to come up with a plan as to how we can give cities and towns some financial flexibility."

Bastarache said trying to immerse Lynn's 1,200 bilingual students also requires a lot of preparation.

"This would require us to transition the way these children are instructed," he said. "That requires considerable planning. It's very difficult for a classroom teacher if you have a number of students who have perhaps only been in the country for one year."

Bastarache said voters that supported the law do not understand basic educational practices.

"From a personal standpoint, people have very little understanding of how a child learns a second language," he said. "The majority of people do not have a knowledge base. Fluency and literacy are two different things. Even though a student may appear to be fluent when they talk to you, by no means is that an indication that they are literate."

The superintendents have won support from state Rep. Peter Larkin (D-Pittsfield) and state Sen. Robert Antonioni (D-Leominster) co-chairman of the Legislature's joint education committee.

"Even if the governor were to veto this, my guess is there would be sufficient numbers in both branches to override any veto," Antonioni said. "I'm not sure his leverage on this issue is such that it would prevent the Legislature from lending a sympathetic ear to those who actually have to make this question work."

The Department of Education is expected to release regulations on English immersion next week.

Other school systems seeking the delay include Brockton, Cambridge, Chicopee, Fall River, Fitchburg,
Framingham, Haverhill, Lawrence, Leominster, Lowell, Malden, New Bedford, Pittsfield, Somerville, Springfield, Taunton and Worcester.

Associated Press material was used in this report.