Original URL: http://www.masslive.com/news/unionnews/index.ssf?/base/news-0/103441390232260.xml

Hamp committee against question 2

The bilingual education overhaul called for in the ballot item doesn't account for the different needs of students
around the state, they declared.

Union-News Staff writer

NORTHAMPTON - The School Committee has gone on record as opposing a ballot question that would determine how communities may teach bilingual education to non-English speaking children.

By a unanimous vote, the committee approved a resolution declaring opposition to ballot question 2, which is titled "English Language Education in Public Schools."

The binding question would replace existing bilingual programs with a system of intensive training in English. After one year, a student would be placed in regular classes.

It also allows personal lawsuits to be filed against teachers, school officials and school committee members if a school district violates any portion of the law.

The resolution approved by the committee declares the referendum to be seriously flawed, short-sighted and inadequate for the needs of children who do not speak English.

"One narrowly defined program for teaching English to non-native English speakers cannot fit the diverse needs of all bilingual learners and all school districts throughout the commonwealth," the resolution states.

Isabelina Rodriguez Babcock, director of pupil services, said she supported the resolution.

Question 2, she said, "is a very dangerous piece of legislation."

She said to forbid teachers from ever speaking to a child in the child's native language "is beyond my comprehension."

Passage of Question 2 would require Northampton to dismantle its bilingual education program, which Rodriguez Babcock said is working. Non-English speaking children are taught in both their native language and in English, she said.

"We still have a way to go, but our children are progressing," she said.

Massachusetts says that a non-English speaking child needs bilingual education for at least three years before he or she is capable of keeping pace in an English-only classroom.

Rodriguez Babcock said the state's recommendation is somewhat conservative.

"Realistically, it takes a good seven years before a child is able to function at the academic level of their (English-speaking) peers," she said.

Committee member David Kotz said passage of the referendum would make Northampton's bilingual education program illegal.

The referendum fails to take into account different programs employed in different communities depending on each community's particular needs, he said.

"It goes against the grain, when you consider how many different needs there are," Kotz said. "To suggest one year is ludicrous. I feel very strongly this is a terribly bleak question."

Patrick Johnson may be reached at pjohnson@union-news.com


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