Original URL:  http://wbz4.com/news/StoryFolder/story_1595349061_html

Future of Bilingual Education in Hands of Voters
From WBZ  Oct 30, 2002 5:46 pm US/Eastern

When voters go to the polls next week they will be asked whether Massachusetts should replace bilingual education with a one-year English immersion program.

Nowhere is Question 2 more hotly debated than in the state's immigrant communities.

Juan Felipe, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, said the state's 30-year-old bilingual education program helped his son and daughter learn English while they thrived in school.

Carol Sanchez, whose family emigrated from Peru, said her parents' decision to pull her out of bilingual education ultimately helped her succeed. She has put her son in a private school where he will be taught in English.

"Bilingual education tends to separate kids into separate education programs for longer than they need," said Sanchez, 40, a public accountant from Framingham. "It took my classmates a lot longer to learn English because they stayed in the bilingual education program."

Felipe praised bilingual education. His son stayed in bilingual education for five years. His daughter was in the program for four.

During that time, they were able to learn English while studying other subjects in their native language, said Felipe, 47, who criticized the ballot initiative's "one size fits all" approach.

"It doesn't give the opportunity to the children to learn subjects during the time they are learning the language," said Felipe, director of a housing assistance program in Boston. "It's not fair to stop them in the learning process until they
learn English."

The threat of the ballot question prompted lawmakers to make sweeping changes to bilingual education this year. The new laws allows schools to choose from a range of programs to teach English to children not fluent in the language.

Supporters of the question said if schools are given the option of keeping traditional bilingual education, they won't try other methods.

In English immersion classes, students will be taught all classes in English. Teachers are allowed to use a student's native language to help, but must teach primarily in English, supporters said.

The goal is to move the children into regular classes after a year, although the question allows some exceptions.

Opponents, however, point to a section of the question that allows teachers to be sued personally for violating the law
and teaching in a native language.

The question's brainchild is Ron Unz, a millionaire software entrepreneur who has sponsored similar questions in other
states, including his home state of California.

Unz and his California-based English for the Children donated most of the $442,000 raised in support of the question
in Massachusetts.

The Committee for Fairness to Children and Teachers, which opposes the question, has raised about half that amount.

Opponents say the question will cost taxpayers about $125 million. Lincoln Tamayo, lead supporter of the question in
Massachusetts, said the dollar figure was "concocted out of thin air." Not approving the question will cost more in the
end, he said.

"We can no longer afford to segregate children for years on end in foreign language ghettos," he said.

For opponents, the central issue is choice.

"Children have different ways of learning and this will take away (teaching) options," said Giovanna Negretti, director
of the Latino political organization "Oiste?" (Did you hear?).

Opponents face an uphill battle.

A Boston Herald poll of 421 likely voters conducted from Oct. 25-27 found 63 percent supporting the question and 28
opposed with 9 percent undecided. The poll has a margin of error of 4.6 percentage points.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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