Original URL: http://www.thenavajotimes.com/20041902/News/public_schools.html

AG: Public schools not exempt from Prop. 203
Navajo Times
Feb 19, 2004
By Bill Donovan - Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK - A couple of years ago, educators went on the offensive when Arizona voters went to the polls to decide whether English would be the only language that classes would be taught in.

At that time, a compromise was reached that public school educators thought would allow them an exemption so they could provide instruction in Native American languages in the early grades.

Boy, were they wrong.

Education officials for the state of Arizona are now saying that based on an opinion by the state's attorney general, public schools on the reservation have to comply with the English Only law (Proposition 203). Only Bureau of Indian Affairs schools are exempt.

"This is a major step backwards," said Deborah Jackson-Dennison, superintendent of the Window Rock Unified School District.

Jackson-Dennison has got President Joe Shirley Jr. involved in her efforts to get the state to change its policy and exempt public schools on reservations that have a large Native American student population.

Shirley and other tribal officials were in Phoenix Tuesday meeting with state education officials to get the matter clarified.

What's at risk, Jackson-Dennison said, were Navajo language immersion programs like the one at Window Rock where students in the primary grades get instruction in their native language. As they get into higher grades, they receive more and more instruction in English.

By doing this, she said, it now appears that school districts will be putting in jeopardy some of their state funding.

She said that on many state funding requests, the Arizona Department of Education has placed a new item asking districts if they are complying with the English Only law.

"The form gives us only two options - yes or no," said Jackson-Dennison. "There is not a third option labeled 'exempt.'"

By filling out the "no" blank, public schools on reservations within the state are taking a definite risk of getting their application denied. If they mark "yes," programs like Window Rock's Navajo Immersion Program will be eliminated.

State school officials have made it very clear that classes - all classes - will be taught only in English.

Margaret Garcia-Dugan, associate superintendent for the Arizona Department of Education, said that while BIA schools are exempt from complying with Proposition 203, public schools are not.

In a written statement, she said that "if a public school has a large Native American student population, it must still adhere to the provisions set forth in Proposition 203 regardless of whether or not that school is on a reservation.

"Proposition 203 does allow teaching other languages besides English as an elective (such as Navajo Language and Cultural Instruction)," she said. "All other courses such as history, math, English, and physical education are to be in (English Only) unless the student receives a waiver."

This, said Jackson-Dennison, doesn't make a lot of sense since federal statutes contain provisions that protect and encourage the development of native languages such as those offered within the Window Rock school district.

"The No Child Left Behind Act also encourages the teaching of native languages," she said.

Now, the state is coming in and saying that the school district could lose some of its state funding by following the federal laws and this isn't right, she said.

"John C. Lincoln Health Network" made the following annotations.

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