Original URL: http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/343/metro/Vote_set_on_immersion_waiver+.shtml

Vote set on immersion waiver

Many in Amherst want bilingual ed
The Boston Globe12/9/2002
By Associated Press, 12/9/2002

AMHERST - Some residents in this college town say the bilingual education ballot initiative, overwhelmingly approved by the state's voters last month, shouldn't apply to their schools.

Amherst is the first community in the state to take up the question of whether to reject the new English-immersion law.
Voters will decide whether to ask the Legislature to exempt the town at a special Town Meeting today.

''We lost at the polls, but that doesn't mean we should give up,'' said Vladimir Morales, a School Committee member who led the petition drive that gathered more than the 200 signatures needed to force the Town Meeting.

''It's part of the democratic process,'' he said. ''I hope the other communities in the state where the people voted against the law do the same.''

Such a request from Amherst would face an uncertain future on Beacon Hill. If lawmakers decided to accept the home-rule petition, it could open the doors for other communities seeking similar exemptions, significantly weakening the new law.

A number of bills have already been proposed by state lawmakers seeking to delay, amend, or gut the law, which requires schools to move students into regular classrooms following a year of intensive language training, with some exceptions.

State Representative Frank Smizik, a Brookline Democrat, said his measure would allow districts to opt out of English immersion at the request of school officials in his town.

But state Senator Guy Glodis, Democrat of Worcester, called such efforts ''nonsense.''

''The people have spoken. By a 70 percent vote, they said traditional bilingual education hasn't worked,'' said Glodis, a supporter of English immersion. ''You have to mandate change. Imagine if we made the MCAS test optional?''

Other supporters of the English immersion referendum questioned how much impact Amherst's vote would have.

''It might if this was the city of Springfield, but everyone knows this is a nutty town,'' said Rosalie Porter, who lives in Amherst and is state chairwoman of English for the Children, a pro-immersion group.

Porter, a former bilingual teacher in Newton, also suggested the new law would change little in Amherst's bilingual program.

''The town now really has the sort of English immersion program that we would like to see in schools across the state,'' she said.

The school system has about 170 students in bilingual instruction, including four main programs in Spanish, Khmer, Korean, and Chinese, and provides tutors and translators for the rest, who speak 22 other languages, she said.

The greatest impact will be in large cities with large numbers of bilingual students, Porter maintained, with most suburban districts and smaller cities largely unaffected.

Still, the Amherst Select Board voted unanimously earlier this week to endorse the exemption request.

''If it doesn't seem to be a problem, I don't see why we should fix it,'' said board chairman Carl Seppala.

This story ran on page B2 of the Boston Globe on 12/9/2002. Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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