Original URL:  http://www.gazettenet.com/10302002/politics/1351.htm

UMass unions oppose question
Daily Hampshire Gazzette
By CHERYL B. WILSON, Staff Writer

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

AMHERST - Leaders of five unions at the University of Massachusetts announced their opposition Tuesday to question on next week's state ballot that would abolish bilingual education.

Question 2 would replace bilingual education with English immersion for immigrant children.

"A large number of immigrants belong to our union," said Francis Martin, president of local 1776 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers. "They are from Cambodia, Bosnia, China, Russia. We see how difficult it is for them to master the English language and can imagine what it is like for the young children. Without assistance, it may take them years to learn English."

Although most campus members of the Service Employees International Union are not directly affected by bilingual education, union president Tom Coish said statewide his union has many immigrant employees. The union represents the janitors who recently staged a strike in Boston for better wages and health benefits.

"Unions at this time are involved in social justice issues," Coish said. "When an issue like this comes along, we speak out."

The ballot initiative has been bankrolled by Ronald Unz, a California businessman who helped pass a similar act in that state.

Donna Johnson, president of the University Staff Association, which is affiliated with the Massachusetts Teachers Association, said teachers know what works best for children. "Who is Ron Unz to tell people what to propose? He should spend a day in a bilingual classroom."

Anthropology professor Robert Paynter of the Massachusetts Society of Professors said, "Everybody knows how hard it is to learn a foreign language. People long for a magic bullet, but this is a terrible bullet."

Leo Maley of the Graduate Employees Organization said many graduate students have children in local schools, and many are international students whose children need bilingual education.

Also on Tuesday, the linguistics department at UMass agreed unanimously to oppose Question 2.

"The success of bilingual education at getting children to learn English and their other academic subjects is well proven and backed up by solid research funding," the 11 professors agreed. They said English immersion would segregate children and put those learning English at a severe academic risk.

A UMass rally against Question 2 is scheduled for today at 12:30 p.m. on the steps of the Student Union. English professor Martin Espada will be joined by other professors, graduate students, union leaders and state Rep. Ellen Story, D-Amherst.

A forum on the ballot question is scheduled for tonight at 7 p.m. in Campus Center 903. Panelists include an Amherst Regional High School student and two UMass students who are successful graduates of bilingual programs, in addition to several professors.

Cheryl B. Wilson can be reached at cwilson@gazettenet.com


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