Two sides on two languages
Denver Post
March 18, 2006

Advocate of bilingual education worried by proposal to limit dual instruction
By Karen Rouse
A proposal for a state constitutional amendment on the ballot limiting bilingual instruction in public schools raises concerns from an advocate of bilingual education.

"We all agree that kids should learn English," said Manolo Gonzalez-Estay, who in 2002 successfully led a campaign to defeat a measure that would have restricted bilingual education in public schools. "However, it's how the kids acquire that language. Not all kids learn the same way."

A draft of the proposal, filed Thursday with the state's Legislative Council Office by three citizens, including Weld County Commissioner William "Bill" Jerke, calls for all public school students to be taught in English-only classrooms.

Jerke said he didn't want to comment. But Maria Rocha-Secrest, a Greeley native who said her native language was Spanish, said she believes bilingual education - which allows English-language learners to receive some assistance in their native tongue - is slowing students down.

"They're not progressing at the level they need to be by graduation," Rocha-Secrest said. "What is happening is you're seeing less and less children making it through the school system."

The proposed change to the Colorado Constitution says parents could ask for a waiver to transfer to another school.

Rocha-Secrest said those parents could choose a charter school that offers bilingual education.

The proposal also says that at schools in which 20 or more students in the same grade level have received waivers, a different program, such as a bilingual program, would have to be offered.

The state's legislative council and legal services will review the language of the draft in a public hearing at 3 p.m. March 30.

Once the wording is cleared, proponents of the measure must go to the secretary of state's office to set the ballot language. The group would have to collect 67,829 signatures from registered Colorado voters by Aug. 7 to get the measure on the ballot.

Gonzalez-Estay said he doesn't believe voters will support such a measure, but "it's important for the community to realize any citizen initiative is serious."