Original URL: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/news_columnists/article/0,1299,DRMN_86_1508856,00.html

Campos: Her own worst nightmare
Rocky Mountain News
October 29, 2002

One of the oddities of life in general, and of political life in particular, is that people often end up becoming exactly what
they have spent their lives fighting against. A classic example of this neurotic pattern is provided by Rita Montero, the leading proponent of Amendment 31, Colorado's anti-bilingual education initiative. Montero's battle against bilingual education began a decade ago when her son was placed in a bilingual program against her will. Her frustration with the Denver school system's bilingual education programs inspired her to win a spot on the city's board of education, and to play a key role in a federal lawsuit that altered bilingual education in the Denver schools in ways Montero and her
supporters advocated.

What Montero has advocated is that parents should never have their children forced into a particular language acquisition program. Parents whose children aren't proficient in English should have choices: if, for example, a parent doesn't believe a standard English as a Second Language (ESL) program is appropriate for his or her child, the parent should have
the option of having the child spend the entire school day in an all-English environment. And Colorado parents have been
exercising that choice: thousands of Colorado schoolchildren have been waived out of bilingual education programs.

Having choices in regard to bilingual education is no different than having choices in regard to charter schools, or in regard to other programs (such as tax vouchers) designed to give parents more control over their children's education. The key to such programs is that if, like Montero, parents find they are unhappy with some aspect of their local schools, they should have options that give them the power to do something about this.

The irony of Amendment 31 is that Montero is now fighting to take away all choice from Colorado's parents regarding bilingual education. Amendment 31 would mandate a single system of English language acquisition: a system based on the theory that students who aren't proficient in English won't need more than a year of special instruction before being placed full time in the regular school curriculum. In fact, similar initiatives in California and Arizona have failed to produce this result: a majority of the students placed in Amendment 31-style immersion classes have not been ready for full "mainstreaming" after a year of such classes.

If Amendment 31 passes, every school district in Colorado will have its freedom to deal with such problems taken away from it. In other words, if Rita Montero's preferred brand of English acquistion turns out to be a disaster for a particular district, or a particular school, or a particular child, that will just be too bad: It will be unconstitutional for Colorado's parents and teachers to do anything about it.

Montero's own child spent a month in a bilingual education program against Montero's will. She was sufficiently outraged by that to dedicate the next decade of her life to fighting the bureaucrats who had been insufficiently sensitive to the fact that their version of bilingual education wasn't appropriate for her child. Yet now she wants to make it illegal for Colorado's parents to do exactly what she and thousands of other Colorado parents have chosen to do. Amendment 31 would take away all choice from parents regarding bilingual education. A decade after she began her battle against those who didn't respect her right to control her child's education, Rita Montero has ended up becoming the most extreme version of the thing she despises most: someone who claims to know what's best for everyone else's children, and who wants the power to impose her views on anyone who disagrees.

Paul Campos is a professor of law at the University of Colorado. He can be reached at paul.campos@ colorado.edu.


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