Feds probe tech school on Englishonly stance
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 18, 2004 12:00 AM
Justin Juozapavicius

MESA - Federal investigators have requested records from an East Valley technical school that prohibited students from speaking Spanish in class last October.

The three-page letter from the U.S. Department of Education's Denver office for civil rights begins a fact-finding phase into the East Valley Institute of Technology, said Silverio Garcia Jr., League of United Latin American Citizens state education chairman.

The investigation could last several months.

The letter said officials would investigate whether EVIT subjected national-origin minority students to different treatment by prohibiting their use of conversational Spanish during informal classroom activities and whether it failed to inform national-origin language-minority parents about school-related matters in a language they understood.

"The letter speaks for itself," Garcia said. "It sends the message that federal law has been violated."

Institute officials had until Friday to submit the requested documents, which it did, said Lynn Strang, school spokeswoman.

Last fall, a teacher at EVIT instructed several cosmetology students to refrain from speaking Spanish during class, a move that violated free speech, critics said.

One of the students, 16-year-old Patricia Otero, took the issue to a Mesa Latino Town Hall meeting after the school couldn't produce a policy on its English-only stance.

At the time, institute officials said the school's English-only policy backed up Arizona's English-immersion law, approved by voters in 2000.

School officials also maintained at the time that the girls' Spanish conversations in the class could cause the teacher to lose control of the classroom and that it was not fair to English-speaking customers of the class.

Part of the students' training involves working on members of the public.

Otero said she's glad an investigation is moving forward.

"I know life is not fair. When I know something is wrong, I'm going to persevere to get it fixed," said Otero, who still attends EVIT.

Institute officials said the school "acted in good faith" to make sure it was in compliance with the law.

"We have felt always that this was a classroom-management issue. We didn't intend to discriminate against any student," Strang said.

"If (the government) thinks we can do more, we will do it," she said.

Reach the reporter at justin.juozapavicius@arizonarepublic.com or (602)

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