Original URL: http://www.tucsoncitizen.com/index.php?page=opinion&story_id=080403b4_edits

Our opinion: Parents must have a voice in bilingual ed
Tucson Citizen
AUGUST 4, 2003

It has been nearly three years since Arizona voters approved a measure limiting bilingual education - and the regulations imposed on schools are no clearer today than they were in November 2000.

Tom Horne, the state superintendent of public instruction, has tried to clear up the confusion. But his autocratic approach has done little more than throw another dash of confusion into the pot.

The law approved by voters requires children who are not fluent in English to attend all-day English-immersion classes. It also prohibits Spanish textbooks and teaching in Spanish.

But the law, as with many of those born of initiatives, is vague. It is filled with exceptions that different schools and school districts interpret differently.

For example, the law allows children with "good English language skills" or with "special needs" to enroll in bilingual education classes if a parent signs a waiver that is granted by the school district.

But "good English language skills" are not defined. And some districts interpret the law to mean that any parent may ask for a waiver and all could be granted.

Horne, who was elected last fall, ran on a platform of promising to crack down on bilingual waivers. And to do that, he issued guidelines defining what constituted "good English language skills" and making it tougher to apply for a

Horne steeply raised the grade students must earn on English fluency tests before parents can ask for a waiver. He based the score on national test averages. But that was overturned by the state Attorney General's Office, which
said state averages - which are lower - had to be used.

Horne insists this will not be a problem. But he also said he will maintain a hard line against Spanish in classrooms, and that schools with bilingual programs will have to fall in line. "They have between now and the opening day of school,
no exceptions," Horne said recently.

Horne's insistence on enforcing the law is commendable, but off-target. Despite his black-and-white statement, the law does allow for some bilingual exceptions.

Those exceptions must be allowed. And the law should be interpreted with one tenet in mind: Parents must remain in charge of their child's education, within applicable laws. With the confines of the law so vague - intentionally or otherwise - parents should be given wide latitude to request English-immersion waivers and have them granted.

The law was intended to promote the learning of English - not to subvert the rights and the responsibilities of parents.

A clean arroyo

Urban washes can be made free of fire danger without being turned into concrete ditches.

That was illustrated recently in the Colonia Solana neighborhood, where city workers, neighborhood volunteers, homeless people and students collaborated to clear overgrowth from the half-mile-long Arroyo Chico Wash.

The arroyo is a well-known riparian habitat, home to 62 species of birds - more species than any other neighborhood in Tucson, according to residents. But the heavy brush made it a fire danger.

The clearing was done carefully, in a way that allows wildlife to thrive while minimizing fire danger - something that likely would not have happened without the cooperative effort.