Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

Sunday, June 7, 1998

Bilingual Education Backers Fear Spread of California Measure
By LUISA YANEZ, Miami Bureau

       MIAMI -- In California last week, voters approved a measure that will kill bilingual education programs in its public schools.
     In Miami-Dade County, where bilingual education continues to grow, some school officials already are working to see that Proposition 227 does not spread here.
     And they are blasting the California vote.
     Leading the movement is School Board Vice Chairman Demetrio Perez Jr., a Cuban-American who owns a private school.
     "If California intends to entomb what yesterday it engendered, Miami-Dade will assume the torch of leadership and reaffirm its programs," Perez said.
     At a board meeting on Wednesday, Perez will propose a resolution to "reaffirm the importance of bilingual and multicultural education in our school system."
     The California vote has angered some educators in Miami-Dade County.
     " A great travesty occurred on June 2 in California," said Lourdes Rovira, executive director of bilingual education for Miami-Dade schools. "Whether or not the California vote is based on bigotry, frustration, fear or ignorance, countless students and future citizens will be without a marketable linguistic tool."
     What most people do not realize, Perez said, is that bilingual education in Florida and California are two different animals. The goal of bilingual education in both states is to retain the native language of students while they learn a new one.
     Here, newly arrived immigrant students who don't speak English are placed in classes where 80 percent of the teaching is done in English. As they become proficient, they are eventually mainstreamed into regular classes.
     In California, non-English speakers were mainly taught in Spanish, which is also mandatory for non-Spanish speakers. Recently, even Hispanic parents felt children were not learning English fast enough.
     Under the new initiative, California students who are not proficient in English will enter a yearlong immersion program, then be placed in regular classes.
     English-speaking students will not be required to take Spanish.
     Opponents of the measure have taken their fight to federal court.
     In Florida, about 154,000 students take classes in other languages, making it the fourth largest state in terms of participating students.
     "Being bilingual in South Florida, and the rest of the world for that matter, is not a liability but an asset," Rovira said.
     In Miami-Dade County, public school students represent 157 different nationalities and speak 80 languages. More than half speak Spanish.
     Still, Perez feels the connotation of California's abolition of bilingual education is detrimental and could spread to Florida.
     "Bilingual education is crucial to our area given our position as the gateway to the Americas," he said.