Mira! 'Amigos lives'
While parents at the Amigos School celebrated a series of close votes by state legislators that saved their school, the governor's staff took aim at the lawmakers' decision.
In back-to-back votes, the state House of Representatives and Senate voted Monday to exempt two-way bilingual programs from the bilingual education ballot measure passed by voters last November. Known as the Unz Initiative, Question 2 would have required all non-English speaking children to attend one year of English-immersion classes before entering a two-way bilingual program such as the Spanish-English one at the Amigos School.
Gov. Mitt Romney had vetoed two sections exempting such programs, saying that any amendments to Question 2 went against the will of the voters.
Had the governor's vetos stuck, Amigos would not have closed, but would have been unable to enroll students who speak only Spanish.
After Monday's votes, Romney spokeswoman Nicole St. Peter criticized the Legislature's actions.
"Our elected representatives seem confused about the way democracy works," she said in a written statement. "The people dictate to them, not the other way around. Last November at the ballot box, the overwhelming majority of Massachusetts voters said they supported teaching English to our children.
"But Cambridge lawmakers took issue with the governor's veto, saying his reasons were unfounded.
"The voters didn't speak on two-way immersion," said state Sen. Jarrett Barrios, D-Cambridge, pointing to comments made during the campaign by Question 2 proponents denying any impact on two-way programs. "And by the way, why would Romney nurse this grudge when so many children will benefit? He has repeatedly refused to acknowledge the success of this program in comparison with every other language acquisition program." Barrios, a Latino, is bilingual.
Lincoln Tamayo, who served as chairman of the Question 2 ballot drive, told the Chronicle last fall that Amigos could continue to operate even if his question was successful, but was never definitive about the exact ramifications on the program.
The override of Romney's veto - and others that upheld parent choice and accountability amendments to Question 2 - were vitally important for the education of children in Cambridge and around the state, said state Rep. Alice Wolf, D-Cambridge.
"This is a program that works," she said. "We should just have the program and the kids should be able to go into it, and they will learn English as fast or faster than ESL [English as a Second Language] instruction." Wolf, who immigrated to the U.S. as a child, entered kindergarten knowing only German.
Amigos parents were celebrating just hours after the Senate vote came down in their favor. "It's so good for us. It was going to be so awful to have to have the English immersion class, to have them isolated from the rest of the group until they lean English," said Lillian Rater, a an Amigos parent and the parent liaison for the school.
Amigos father Philip Higonnet of Thorndike Street was critical of the governor's veto and questioned his motives. "I think he put his finger to the wind and looked at the [results from November's election] and decided that standing firm on this issue would play well politically," he said. "The success of schools like Amigos is so indisputable that is the only thing I can think of."