Teacher won't boot English learners
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 3, 2007

Dianna M. Nez

Many state educators are anxious about how their campuses will comply with a voter-approved measure that calls for the reporting of their students'
residency status. But Gilbert's adult English Language Learner Program coordinator is planning for business as usual.

Among the requirements of November-approved Proposition 300 is the exclusion of undocumented immigrants who are enrolled in state-funded adult basic education courses to learn English, literacy or earn their GED. The law also requires school officials to report the number of people who are denied access because they are not legal residents.

But Beth King, a district coordinator for Gilbert Public Schools English Language Learner Programs, said that her duties as an educator do not include immigration policing. advertisement "I am an educator. I will continue to educate anyone who wants to learn,"
King said. "A doctor cannot ethically turn away patients who need medical attention, and I cannot turn my back on students who need an education."

A self-described "old dog," King said that after more than 20 years as a Valley educator she is used to changes in the state's requirements for public schools.

"I don't see (the state) as an adversary," she said. "I work with them to provide the best education for students."

King has not heard from the school district about how the new law will affect the approximately 125 students, the majority of which she believes are legal residents, in Gilbert's six adult English language courses.

But she is confident that her district will continue to put students' and families' education first. The district's record of supporting English Language Learners is admirable, she said.

"Parents are key to their child's education. We (educators) know how important it is they speak the language," she said.

While King is optimistic the state would not require educators to add immigration duties to their job requirements, she said she is prepared for a worst-case scenario. In which case, she said she would attempt to find funding to supplement the state's grant that covers about one third of the program's costs. A federal grant funds the other two-thirds and would not be affected by the state proposition, she said.

King said she supports the state Department of Education's request to have the Attorney General's Office issue an opinion on the new law.

That request came about two weeks ago, said Andrea Esquer, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office, who said the office would issue a formal opinion as quickly as possible.

For now, King's worries are focused on helping her English Language Learner teachers provide a curriculum that gives willing adult students the best chance at learning a second language.

Two of King's teachers, Rudy Ortiz and Jennifer Blair, said it would be heartbreaking to see hardworking students be forced to leave.

Marta Ponce, 56, of Gilbert, an undocumented student in the program, said she knows the key to improving her life here is learning the language.

She said she came to the state about a year ago because Mexico has no opportunities for older women. She wishes people understood that migrants'
decision to come to the United States is a matter of life or death.

"There are no jobs there for me . . . there is nothing," Ponce said.