Bilingual issue opposed in Amherst

Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writers Saturday, October 26, 2002 -- AMHERST -

Protests against a
ballot initiative that would end bilingual education in Massachusetts are
increasing ahead of a debate on the issue to be held at Amherst Town Hall

Question 2, sponsored by the English for the Children campaign, would replace transitional bilingual education with
English-only classrooms. Under the initiative, students learning English would participate in a sheltered English immersion
program for about one year, then transfer into mainstream classes.

The town's Human Rights Commission is sponsoring the public forum Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

Both the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee and the Amherst School Committee voted last month to adopt
statements of purpose opposing Question 2.

"We worry that students who have recently arrived in our country will fail to grasp academic concepts and coursework,
particularly science and math, in 'English-only' classrooms," stated the committees' letters to the Committee for Fairness to
Children and Teachers, a statewide group opposed to the question.

Elaine Brighty, chairwoman of the Amherst School Committee, said the school system's bilingual education program is
successful and allows parents to choose language programs for their children.

"The ballot question takes choice away from parents," said Brighty, "and it doesn't do children service in learning English
faster and getting an education at the same time."

Vladimir Morales, the member of both committees who proposed creating a statement of purpose, worried that voters might
not have enough information about the issue.

"How many people that are going to be voting on Nov. 5 know what bilingual education is, what we offer, what the
question on this ballot is?" Morales asked. "They say [Question 2] is 'for the children.' The children are doing fine."

Students speak out

Two Regional Middle School teens, eighth-graders Kate Campbell-Strauss and Elizabeth Bragg, oppose Question 2. The
students plan to distribute fliers to classmates and encourage them to ask their parents to vote against the measure. They
will also try to write articles for local newspapers and appear on the radio.

"We want to educate people," Bragg, 13, said.

The duo began their own self-education and involvement several months ago. They attended a seminar at the University of
Massachusetts, read newspapers and solicited help from Middle School ESL teacher Wilma Ortiz and Bragg's mother, who
teaches an introductory multicultural education class at UMass.

Rosalie Porter, an Amherst resident who is co-chairwoman of the English for the Children initiative, says she also wants to
educate people.

"Bilingual education in this state has been a failure for 31 years, and that has been acknowledged by the Legislature that
finally decided to fix the law," said Porter, a former bilingual teacher and director of bilingual programs in Newton. "But it
didn't fix it well enough."

Acting Gov. Jane Swift signed a law in August that allows school districts to choose from a range of bilingual education
programs, including the ballot question's one-year immersion program.

The girls say this works at their school. "We talked to the kids in bilingual classes. They like our program," Bragg said.

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