Our opinion: Parents must have a voice in bilingual ed
AUGUST 4, 2003
It has been nearly three years since Arizona voters approved a measure limiting
bilingual education - and the regulations imposed on schools are no clearer
today than they were in November 2000.
Tom Horne, the state superintendent of public instruction, has tried to clear up
the confusion. But his autocratic approach has done little more than throw
another dash of confusion into the pot.
The law approved by voters requires children who are not fluent in English to
attend all-day English-immersion classes. It also prohibits Spanish textbooks
and teaching in Spanish.
But the law, as with many of those born of initiatives, is vague. It is filled
with exceptions that different schools and school districts interpret
For example, the law allows children with "good English language skills" or with
"special needs" to enroll in bilingual education classes if a parent signs a
waiver that is granted by the school district.
But "good English language skills" are not defined. And some districts interpret
the law to mean that any parent may ask for a waiver and all could be granted.
Horne, who was elected last fall, ran on a platform of promising to crack down
on bilingual waivers. And to do that, he issued guidelines defining what
constituted "good English language skills" and making it tougher to apply for a
Horne steeply raised the grade students must earn on English fluency tests
before parents can ask for a waiver. He based the score on national test
averages. But that was overturned by the state Attorney General's Office, which
said state averages - which are lower - had to be used.
Horne insists this will not be a problem. But he also said he will maintain a
hard line against Spanish in classrooms, and that schools with bilingual
programs will have to fall in line. "They have between now and the opening day
no exceptions," Horne said recently.
Horne's insistence on enforcing the law is commendable, but off-target. Despite
his black-and-white statement, the law does allow for some bilingual exceptions.
Those exceptions must be allowed. And the law should be interpreted with one
tenet in mind: Parents must remain in charge of their child's education, within
applicable laws. With the confines of the law so vague - intentionally or
otherwise - parents should be given wide latitude to request English-immersion
waivers and have them granted.
The law was intended to promote the learning of English - not to subvert the
rights and the responsibilities of parents.
A clean arroyo
Urban washes can be made free of fire danger without being turned into concrete
That was illustrated recently in the Colonia Solana neighborhood, where city
workers, neighborhood volunteers, homeless people and students collaborated to
clear overgrowth from the half-mile-long Arroyo Chico Wash.
The arroyo is a well-known riparian habitat, home to 62 species of birds - more
species than any other neighborhood in Tucson, according to residents. But the
heavy brush made it a fire danger.
The clearing was done carefully, in a way that allows wildlife to thrive while
minimizing fire danger - something that likely would not have happened without
the cooperative effort.