Original URL: http://www.s-t.com/daily/10-02/10-31-02/a01sr009.htm

Question 2 opponents rally for bilingual ed
By JACK STEWARDSON, Standard-Times staff writer
October 31, 2002

FALL RIVER -- Opponents of a ballot question to end transitional bilingual education say to do so would be turning back the clock 30 years on education. 

At a rally on the steps of Government Center yesterday, they charged that the so-called immersion teaching that would take its place is an ineffective, mean-spirited approach that would leave students "falling through the cracks."

Question 2 on next week's state ballot would abandon the bilingual education program, which provides a two- to three-year transitional English education in Massachusetts in favor of giving most non-English-speaking students a year of concentrated English before sending them into regular classes.

"We should not be punishing children because their parents came here as immigrants," said state Rep. Robert Correia, D-Fall River, who called the referendum mean-spirited in an impassioned plea.

"The America I know and the America I love is so much better than that kind of spirit," he added.

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said there are some issues well worth deciding in a referendum, but "making education policy by voter referendum is not a good idea."

He also suggested there is an undercurrent of anti-immigrant feeling behind the ballot question.

Helena Marques, director of the Immigrants' Assistance Center in New Bedford, said ending bilingual education would leave kids falling through the cracks.

Ricardo Oliveira, publisher of O Jornal, who organized the rally, blasted the immersion concept and suggested it would be counterproductive to both non-immigrant and immigrant students. O Jornal publishes stories in English and Portuguese.

He argued the fine print in the referendum would end up leaving so-called English learners being transferred into classrooms based on proficiency rather than age.

"It would allow people to put a 13-year-old in with first-graders," he said.

Fall River Mayor Edward M. Lambert Jr., who noted there are 32 different languages spoken at Durfee High School, voiced opposition to the "one size fits all" concept behind immersion.

Maria Igrejas Matos, a former bilingual education student who is now a bilingual education guidance counselor at Durfee, said if a bilingual education program had not been available to her, she would have probably dropped out.

In a press release, state Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral, D-New Bedford, said immersion has failed in California and would be "a failed system of educating our students."

The debate over Question 2 has also spread over to the governor's race, where Republican candidate Mitt Romney has supported the immersion concept, while his opponent, Democrat Shannon P. O'Brien, has backed the continuation of bilingual education programs.

Fall River's new school superintendent, Richard Pavao, a former bilingual teacher, called upon voters to unite against Question 2 and not "allow a carpetbagger to come into our state and mandate certain things that are wrong."

This story appeared on Page A1 of The Standard-Times on October 31, 2002.


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