Segregation is coming to our schools next year
Arizona Daily Star
Jan. 22, 2008

Guest Opinion

Segregation is coming to our schools next year

Tucson, Arizona | Published:

 Opinion by Kathleen Bethel

The Arizona Department of Education introduced the "new" plan for English Language Learners to principals and leaders in our district. But the informational meetings have been occurring around the state for many months. And the silence is deafening.

Many educators are in shock wondering how we could have come to this without a public outcry. But voters never even had a chance to express their approval or outrage.

Principals are being mandated to separate all students who are not deemed "proficient" in the English language from the rest of the population next year. They must be placed in separate classes from any child who is "proficient," or, any student who will never be tested due to the fact that their parents speak only English. The child must stay assigned to that class until they are deemed proficient.

It does not take much imagination to see how these classes will look. Arizona schools will have much the same feel as the historic "separate but equal" education. The psychological barriers will be firmly established from the beginning. Children will learn their place by being assigned to "that classroom." They will know who are the language "haves" and "have-nots."

Using Prop. 203, the English for Children initiative that passed in 2000, as the basis for an overhaul in the learning of English in Arizona, a task force of nine individuals was appointed to design this model. None of those appointed was an expert in the field of language learning, only two were educators and some had a political agenda.

The model was not based on any proven, successful plan. It will not be funded, although it will cause financial hardship to every district. Our Legislature quietly passed it as ARS 2064 in September 2006.

The plan's writers are quick to state their plan is not actually unconstitutional. Defending the segregated placements as "only temporary" until the child proves he is proficient in English, the writers claim that the plan is not a violation of civil rights. A child might be there for only one year. But the burden of proof is on the children. It is up to them to test out.

Testing out depends on proficiency not only in speaking English but also in reading and writing on the Arizona English Language Learner Assessment (AZELLA). Even native English speakers might have trouble passing, but we will never know. They will not be tested.

If the writers of the plan truly had English proficiency for all students as their primary motivation, they should have included the testing of all students to prove its intent is not discriminatory.

All logic is missing. To learn German, I would want to be immersed in a class with German language role models, and supported with instruction, not "held" in a separate class with others who speak at the same level I do.

The level of proficiency determines class placement and is obtained as a child registers. Even if a child has a baby-sitter after school who speaks another language, stating that will red flag that child as needing to test his proficiency. Imagine being a kindergartner or student new to a school, walking through the doors for the first time, only to be taken to another room by a stranger and given a test. How well would you do?

Unfortunately, the parents who should and would be most outraged at this new development will remain silent. They are the ones who also are not proficient enough to protest. And educators may be afraid they will be more closely monitored if they express their concerns.

So it is imperative that those of us who have witnessed the impact of separate but equal speak out. We must not be afraid. We must invite scrutiny and resist the temptation to let the injustice of this plan continue.

E-mail Kathleen Bethel at

Kathleen Bethel is principal of Los Ranchitos Elementary School in the Sunnyside Unified School District. She estimates that the plan will have an impact on about 60 percent of her students.