Schools seek clarification on
impact of Prop. 200
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 26, 2004
Mel MelÚndez and Yvonne Wingett
Parents, teachers and school
administrators throughout Arizona are scrambling to make sense of Proposition
200, tying up phone lines and shooting off e-mails on the confusing immigration
initiative that's poised to become law.
One Phoenix school board member is pushing for a resolution to protect staff
from criminal punishment. Educators and parents, meanwhile, fear that
state-funded programs are in jeopardy and that participation in parent training
classes and other services will plummet if teachers must check citizenship.
The problem: Three weeks after voters approved the immigration measure known as
Protect Arizona Now on Nov. 2, no one can agree on what it means to students,
parents and teachers. As more Valley schools become social-service hubs for
immigrant families seeking health care, food and clothes, administrators fear
they could land in litigation by providing services or referrals to state
They also fear falling enrollment
in English-as-a-second-language classes and other parent programs. The training
is critical to the success of many American-born Latino students, who in Arizona
drop out nearly twice as often as the national student population, teachers
'A lot of confusion'
"People are fearful because there's a lot of confusion surrounding this law,"
said Ernesto Ugarte, a Mexican immigrant whose two sons attend Mesa's Madison
Elementary School. "A lot of parents take night courses and are active in
schools, and they're really worried about what this is going to mean."
Monday's certification of the statewide vote allows the governor to proclaim
Proposition 200 law, barring imminent legal challenges.
Voters approved the measure under a cloud of controversy and last-minute court
battles. It requires proof of citizenship when registering to vote and applying
for welfare benefits and makes it a crime to provide those benefits to the
Attorney General Terry Goddard has indicated the immigration measure will not
apply to K-12 schools, emergency medical care or other federally mandated
programs. Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne agrees. But
fear continues to ripple across the Valley.
"Everybody in the (immigrant) community is very worried because there's so much
confusion about what this will mean. The fear of deportation is very real," said
Ernesto Urgarte, who recently stopped attending his GED classes.
Local educators depend on the adult classes and services to boost graduation
rates, student AIMS (Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards) scores and college
enrollment. Parents rely on them to build language skills, increase involvement
in their children's education and gain confidence to run routine errands, as
simple as trips to the grocery store and bank.
"We are concerned that fewer parents will participate (in schools) because
studies show that this type of training has a direct impact on how kids learn,"
said Terry Locke, a spokesman for the Chandler Unified School District. "That
would be a detriment to this group of students."
In Mesa, some Venezuelan, Mexican and Salvadoran immigrants hope Proposition 200
won't cost them their treasured classes. They huddle daily with English
instructors in an Edison Elementary School classroom for at least 12 hours
There, among grammar books, pronunciation guides and picture dictionaries, they
and 1,000 adults throughout the district learn vocabulary words, study verb
tenses and diagram sentences.
For custodian Rosa L. Salas, the free classes eventually will lead to meaningful
conversations in English with her children. The native of Juarez, Mexico, two
year's ago couldn't help 11-year-old daughter Jannett with homework.
Now, "I can understand. I can read. I can help my family," the 48-year-old said.
School officials question if the measure will jeopardize the program because it
is partly state-funded.
Randy Pullen, chairman of the Yes on 200 committee, has said the measure, "even
under the broadest interpretation," wouldn't disrupt the social services or
adult classes: "This is part of the hysteria," he said. But last week, he asked
a judge to expand the initiative's scope, heightening doubts among parents and
school officials who wait in standby mode.
More than a dozen of the state's 236 school districts have contacted the Arizona
School Boards Association seeking direction, Executive Director Panfilo
Contreras said. The group is preparing a Proposition 200 advisory for school
Newsletters, fliers and school memos attempt to clarify the measure and calm
fears of litigation and deportation.
Several Valley districts, including Phoenix Union and Mesa Public Schools, have
sent notices to employees stating "it's business as usual."
Mesa's memo to school principals said school officials "are not obligated to
comply with the requirements of Proposition 200."
Phoenix Union's letter to employees stated, "Public schools will not turn over
to immigration authorities students who are living in Arizona illegally."
Still, Phoenix Union governing board member Gary Peter Klahr wants a resolution
similar to Phoenix's recently passed ordinance insulating employees from civil
and criminal liability under the measure.
"This is not an effort to defy the will of the people, since Proposition 200
applies only to voting and welfare benefits," he said. "But with some elements
claiming the proposition goes way beyond its original intent, I see this as an
insurance policy for our employees."