Romney pledge focus of debate
Globe Staff, 2/25/2003
By Anand Vaishnav
Despite Governor Mitt Romney's campaign promises, his administration appears
divided over whether to nullify a portion of
Massachusetts's new English-immersion law that lets parents sue teachers for
refusing to abide by English-only classes.
The state Board of Education is expected to get its first look today at the
regulations that broadly sketch how schools should replace bilingual education
with all-English classes -- an action that voters overwhelmingly passed last
November. The ballot initiative, Question 2, also lets parents sue school
employees who ''willfully and repeatedly'' refuse to immerse immigrant students
But the draft regulations keep the lawsuit provision intact, despite Romney's
vow during his campaign to water down a measure he labeled ''punitive.'' The
political and educational wings of his administration seem to disagree about
whether the plank can and should be voided.
James A. Peyser, an education official in Romney's administration who also
chairs the state Board of Education, said the governor is confident that schools
can implement immersion well and avoid lawsuits entirely.
''We don't think it's necessary to put regulations in place,'' Peyser said.
''He's convinced at this point that if it's implemented well, and if the
department administers it properly, that lawsuit section will effectively be
Peyser added that regulations cannot contradict their own law, which Question 2
became after it passed with 68 percent of the vote.
But Eric Fehrnstrom, communications director for Romney, said the governor has
not backed off his promise to dilute the lawsuit language. After being submitted
to the state Board of Education today, the regulations will be made available
for public comment, with the board's final vote coming in April.
''These are draft regulations, and as such, they mark the beginning of the
process,'' Fehrnstrom said. ''Our view is that they can be improved by adding
language that will make it virtually impossible for parents to sue teachers. The
governor's office will be in touch with [Education Commissioner David P.
Driscoll's] office to suggest changes along these lines.''
Those who fought to keep bilingual education said Romney would renege on his
word if he did not work to rid Question 2 of the lawsuit provision. ''That's
clearly what the governor promised and what everyone was counting on,'' said Tim
Duncan, former chairman of the Committee for Fairness to Children and Teachers,
which battled the immersion initiative. ''That was one thing the public felt
clearly about, that teachers shouldn't be sued.''
For three decades, Massachusetts instructed many non-English speakers in
bilingual education, or the practice of teaching students in their native
tongues while slowly easing them into English. But Question 2, partly financed
by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ron Unz, replaces that with all-English classes
and requires students to move to mainstream courses after a year, with some
One of the most controversial parts of Question 2 was a provision letting school
employees be held liable if they refused to implement immersion. The Unz
initiative passed in California in 1998 and Arizona in 2000 with similar lawsuit
provisions, but no teacher has been sued.
Rosalie Pedalino Porter, chairwoman of English for the Children, Unz's
Massachusetts campaign, said she takes a ''middle of the road'' view on the
lawsuit plank and said it doesn't have to be kept.
''As long as there's a serious effort by the state to see that towns actually
make the changes, then I'm not concerned about the other piece,'' said Porter, a
consultant and former bilingual education director for Newton public schools.
This story ran on page B2 of the Boston Globe on 2/25/2003. © Copyright 2003
Globe Newspaper Company.