Molera backs district on its Spanish ban
By Mel MelÚndez
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 27, 2002 12:53 PM
Arizona schools chief Jaime Molera says he still backs a Phoenix school
district's plans to ban Spanish from its campuses, even though the Isaac
Elementary School District made a hasty retreat Monday from its initial
"This district's test scores have remained flat, and they want to make academic
gains," Molera said. "Immersing the students in English could only help them."
Molera's comments drew the ire of First Amendment advocates and allegations of
political opportunism from an opponent in the Sept. 10 Republican primary for
superintendent of public instruction.
The controversy erupted Monday after a Republic story quoted P.T. Coe Elementary
School teachers saying they had been instructed to address parents and students
in English and to encourage students to keep Spanish out of the school's
cafeteria, playground and hallways. About 95 percent of the district's 8,800
students are Latino.
"No one in this district has ever told children that they cannot speak Spanish,"
said Isaac Superintendent Paul J. Hanley. "We've just encouraged our staff to
use good English whenever possible."
Molera bristled at allegations that he supported the ban to counteract charges
by primary opponent Tom Horne claiming Molera had been lax in implementing
Proposition 203's English-only legislation.
"That's garbage. This is about academics, not politics," Molera said. "We're
trying to ensure that kids are proficient in English by third grade, and full
immersion could help."
Penny Kotterman, president of the Arizona Education Association, said demanding
that children speak only English outside of the classroom goes beyond the law.
"It harkens back to the days when children were punished for speaking Spanish on
campus," she said.
Arizona native Kino Flores, the superintendent of the Tolleson Union High School
District, recalled being reprimanded as a student in the Winkelman-Hayden mining
"I was paddled every time I spoke Spanish, and that was the only language I
knew," Flores said.
Proposition 203 is the anti-bilingual education measure overwhelmingly approved
by voters in 2000. It permits limited Spanish to help clarify classroom lessons.
Tom Pickrell, attorney for the Mesa Unified School District, said schools could
force teachers to speak only English to students and parents. But he doubted
they could keep students from speaking foreign languages outside the classroom.
"There could be pretty significant First Amendment issues linked to a student's
right to freedom of speech," he said.
On Monday morning, Valley school officials reacted in disbelief when they
learned of Isaac's English-only plan. Many districts, including Mesa, Phoenix
Unified, Chandler and Madison in Phoenix, routinely distribute bilingual
newsletters and reports and use English-Spanish translators at meetings.
Still, supporters of full immersion said it aids all students, including those
who speak foreign languages besides Spanish.
Republic reporters Yvonne Wingett, Pat Kossan, Beth DeFalco, Kristen Go, Lori
Baker and Betty Reid contributed to this article.