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Hispanic Link News Service

New State Initiatives Seek To Limit Spanish In Schools, Government


July 20, 2000
Copyright © 2000 Hispanic Link News Service. All Rights Reserved.

Language initiatives to limit the use of Spanish in four states with growing Latino communities are in various stages of acceptance or rejection. Anti-bilingual education and English-only actions are spreading eastward into the heartland, from Arizona and Colorado to Utah and Oklahoma.

Pending verification by the Arizona secretary of state, a measure to replace current bilingual education programs with one-year English immersion courses in that state's public schools will go before voters Nov. 7.

On June 27, supporters of English for the Children, Arizona turned in 165,000 signatures, 63,000 more than the 101,762 required to put the initiative on the state ballot in November. The state has until Aug. 4 to complete a random sample of signatures, have them certified by county recorders and determine if the required number of valid signatures have been received.

``We are waiting for our initiative to be given a number,'' said Héctor Ayala, co-chair of "English for the Children, Arizona.'' "After that, we will begin our campaign to educate the public about the initiative.'' Currently, about 112,000 students are enrolled in bilingual education programs in the state.

Bilingual education supporters gathered at the Arizona state capitol July 6. Many expressed fear that the public will vote without completely understanding its implications.

Leonard Basurto, director of bilingual education programs for the Tucson Unified School District, says enactment of the initiative will leave parents with no choice about the type of English-language learning programs their children will be placed in. Parents may now choose from among bilingual education, English as a Second Language, mainstream and other classes.

"Decisions about educating a child should be made between parents and teachers. Those are the two parties who have the most information about how best to teach a child,'' Basurto told Hispanic Link.

If approved, the initiative will require all public school instruction to be provided in English, and students who continue to show limited English proficiency after one year will remain in the immersion program an additional year.

A similar effort to amend the Colorado constitution to eliminate bilingual education was halted July 10 by the state Supreme Court. It ruled that the initiative's wording was misleading to voters and included a prohibited catch phrase that said students should be taught English "as rapidly and effectively as possible.''

A group led by Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) and Linda Chávez, head of the Washington, D.C.-based One Nation Indivisible, attempted to gain statewide support to place students with limited English skills in a one-year structured English immersion program.

Bill De La Cruz, vice president of the Boulder Valley School Board, says that although some bilingual education programs have not been successful, a constitutional amendment is not the right response.

"Supporters will be bringing the measure back in 2002, and we will try to educate people about bilingual education during the next two years.''

At a July 13 press conference with members of the Colorado English for the Children group, Chávez proclaimed, "The fight is far from lost.'' She said the group will continue to seek support from the 40,000 people who had signed their petitions.

Meanwhile, petition drives in Utah and Oklahoma are calling on voters to make English the official language for conducting government business. In Utah, English-only advocates succeeded after three years in obtaining the required number of signatures to put a ballot initiative before voters in November to make English "the sole language of the government.''

Tim Schultz, director of communications for U.S. English, a national organization supporting the efforts of Utahans for a Common Language, said the group proclaimed victory at a July 6 press conference after the State election office certified their petitions.

"Supporters have gathered 74,000 verified signatures, more than the 67,000 required,'' Schultz said. "We have found overwhelming public support in Utah.'' He added that U.S. English has spent "around a six-figure amount'' on the campaign to date.

Similar U.S. English-led efforts to make English the official language of Oklahoma are also gaining steam. According to the Secretary of State's office, approximately 100,000 signatures were filed by State Sen. Carol Martin, who led the statewide effort, on July 12. The Oklahoma Supreme Court will now determine whether the group has obtained enough valid signatures to place the initiative on the November ballot. A total of 69,887 were required.

Currently, 25 states have laws designating English as their official language.

Cynthia Orosco is a reporter with Hispanic Link News Service in Washington, D.C.

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