Bilingual debate has racial element
Amendment backer: Anglos benefiting
Denver Post Education Writer, November 01, 2002
By Monte Whaley
Foes of bilingual education claim affluent
white parents of children in dual-language schools are the only ones
out to defeat Amendment 31.
But Hispanic parents from dual-language schools in Denver and Fort
Collins say their contempt for the measure runs deep.
"To think only white people want to take advantage of this is just
ignorance," said Martha Sarmiento, a parent at Harris Dual Immersion
School in Fort Collins.
The parents say they hope to convert their fierce but quiet loyalty to
their schools into a powerful voting bloc to defeat the amendment.
Amendment 31 would eventually wipe out bilingual programs in
Colorado, placing non-English-speaking students into English-only
classes after a year.
Dual-language schools in which Spanish and English are taught equally
are also endangered, say some parents and school officials. That's
because waiver procedures offered to parents to keep their kids
enrolled in those schools would require them to jump through too many
hoops, they say.
"We won't have a program," said JoAnne Trujillo Hayes, principal of
Academia Ana Marie Sandoval, a dual-language school in northwest
Ron Unz, who sponsored similar amendments in Arizona and California,
said worries about dual-language schools in Colorado becoming extinct
No dual-language schools were shut down in California after its
anti-bilingual initiative passed in 1998, Unz said.
Only about 500 students in dual-language schools would be directly
affected by Amendment 31, Unz said. That makes the $3 million
donation given by dual-language parent Pat Stryker to defeat the
measure even more astounding, he said.
"When you are talking about 500 students, that $3 million could have
gone to pay tuition for those students," Unz said.
Unz and Amendment 31 co-author Rita Montero, a former Denver school
board member, have complained that Anglo, upper-middle-class parents
have put their kids in dual-language schools so they can learn Spanish
from immigrant children.
Unz said Anglo dual-language parents are also the only ones who have
spent money and time to defeat anti-bilingual-education proposals in
"It's extremely rare to ever encounter Latino or immigrant parents
strongly in opposition to this initiative," he said.
However, many Hispanic parents say Amendment 31 will take away
their right to enroll their children in schools they think will provide the
"I think as a parent I should have an opportunity to choose what is
best for my children," said Carlos Tamiyo, a parent of two at Sandoval.
If his children were enrolled at another school where Spanish is
banned, he worries they would be segregated. Tamiyo has helped
campaign against Amendment 31.
But it has not been easy to galvanize an often silent minority of
Spanish-speaking parents, say anti-31 forces.
Some are relatively new to the country and do not speak English well,
Tamiyo said. So they don't speak out for fear of fueling misconceptions
that Hispanic immigrants do not want to learn English. And some do not
know the best way to express their opposition.
"They do not know the system; they are afraid," Tamiyo said.
Unz is not convinced that Hispanic children get as much out of
dual-language schools as Anglo kids. Immigrant parents enroll their
children in them because they are told that dual-language schools will
help them learn English, he said.
But the parents later regret their decision to enroll their children, he
"I've talked to parents years after their kids had left those programs,
and they felt almost defrauded," Unz said. "Their children didn't learn
both languages like they've been led to believe."
Tatiana Vega, who arrived in Fort Collins from Costa Rica four years
ago, disagrees. She said her daughter Veronica struggled at first with
English at Harris Immersion.
But daily lessons helped her pick up English quickly, and now she's
reading and writing at grade level at her new school, Vega said.
"She reads and writes English and Spanish and is fluent in both," Vega
Amendment 31 supporter Dick Lamm said he would work to keep
Sandoval and similar programs alive because they attract enthusiastic
parents and teachers.
"Sandoval is very impressive," Lamm said. "You've got a bunch of
upscale parents who are putting a lot of money into that school, and
they enrich a lot of immigrant kids."
But, the former Colorado governor said: "It's not by any means the
average of bilingual education."