Aug 262002
Authors: Melissa Pester

With November approaching, Colorado voters have new ballot issues to consider, particularly the English Language Education amendment, now called Amendment 31.

This amendment to the Colorado constitution would, if passed, bring changes to the way students are taught English if it is their second language. Rather than keeping the English as a Second Language (ESL) and bilingual programs already in place, Amendment 31 would require students to take English immersion courses – instruction that generally lasts for one year.

Harris Bilingual, a school in Fort Collins that teaches a curriculum in both English and Spanish, would be affected by the amendment.

“If passed (Amendment 31) will have dramatic effect on Harris Bilingual,” said Larry Slocum, the school’s principal. “This amendment will make it more difficult for parents to choose how their students are educated.”

The Poudre School District Board of Education opposes the initiative, citing concerns about cost and effect on schools and programs already established.

Under the amendment, all students will be taught in English rather than in their first language and placed in classes provided at their public school after assessment. Supporters for the amendment argue that it will bring consistency statewide for how bilingual students are taught. Low CSAP and other standardized test scores by Spanish-speaking students were also cited as a reason for the amendment.

“At Harris, we hope that our students will be at grade level or higher when they leave,” Slocum said. “They are also bilingual and bi-literate, but if this amendment passes we will have to change our teaching model.”

Rita Montero, a former Denver School Board member, is heading the campaign for Amenment 31, calling it English for the Children of Colorado. Ron Unz, who headed the initiative in California and Arizona, is helping back the movement here. Unz has already donated over $130,000.

“(If the initiative passes) it will no longer mean kids would be isolated in all Spanish language instruction for prolonged periods of time,” Montero said to the Rocky Mountain News. “They will be able to take advantage of all the opportunities they came to this country for.”

Amendment 31 has sparked controversy in the state, and has even led to violence. Montero said two signature-gatherers were assaulted by a group of opponents that included a bilingual education teacher.

Opponents of the amendment voiced concerns that the bill will take away local controls from school boards and the teachers.

“There’s going to be a significant campaign to educate the public that we also agree that English is important for all children,” Lorenzo Trujillo, a Commerce City high school principal, told the Denver Post. “But by the same token, we believe that local control is important.”

English Plus, an organization fighting the amendment, also agrees that local controls should not change for bilingual students.

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