Original URL: http://www.thenavajotimes.com/20041902/News/public_schools.html
AG: Public schools not exempt from Prop. 203
Feb 19, 2004
By Bill Donovan - Navajo Times
WINDOW ROCK - A couple of years ago, educators went on the offensive when
Arizona voters went to the polls to decide whether English would be the only
language that classes would be taught in.
At that time, a compromise was reached that public school educators thought
would allow them an exemption so they could provide instruction in Native
American languages in the early grades.
Boy, were they wrong.
Education officials for the state of Arizona are now saying that based on an
opinion by the state's attorney general, public schools on the reservation
have to comply with the English Only law (Proposition 203). Only Bureau of
Indian Affairs schools are exempt.
"This is a major step backwards," said Deborah Jackson-Dennison,
superintendent of the Window Rock Unified School District.
Jackson-Dennison has got President Joe Shirley Jr. involved in her efforts to
get the state to change its policy and exempt public schools on reservations
that have a large Native American student population.
Shirley and other tribal officials were in Phoenix Tuesday meeting with state
education officials to get the matter clarified.
What's at risk, Jackson-Dennison said, were Navajo language immersion programs
like the one at Window Rock where students in the primary grades get
instruction in their native language. As they get into higher grades, they
receive more and more instruction in English.
By doing this, she said, it now appears that school districts will be putting
in jeopardy some of their state funding.
She said that on many state funding requests, the Arizona Department of
Education has placed a new item asking districts if they are complying with
the English Only law.
"The form gives us only two options - yes or no," said Jackson-Dennison.
"There is not a third option labeled 'exempt.'"
By filling out the "no" blank, public schools on reservations within the state
are taking a definite risk of getting their application denied. If they mark
"yes," programs like Window Rock's Navajo Immersion Program will be
State school officials have made it very clear that classes - all classes -
will be taught only in English.
Margaret Garcia-Dugan, associate superintendent for the Arizona Department of
Education, said that while BIA schools are exempt from complying with
Proposition 203, public schools are not.
In a written statement, she said that "if a public school has a large Native
American student population, it must still adhere to the provisions set forth
in Proposition 203 regardless of whether or not that school is on a
"Proposition 203 does allow teaching other languages besides English as an
elective (such as Navajo Language and Cultural Instruction)," she said. "All
other courses such as history, math, English, and physical education are to be
in (English Only) unless the student receives a waiver."
This, said Jackson-Dennison, doesn't make a lot of sense since federal
statutes contain provisions that protect and encourage the development of
native languages such as those offered within the Window Rock school district.
"The No Child Left Behind Act also encourages the teaching of native
languages," she said.
Now, the state is coming in and saying that the school district could lose
some of its state funding by following the federal laws and this isn't right,
"John C. Lincoln Health Network" made the following annotations.