Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
Sunday, June 7, 1998
Bilingual Education Backers Fear Spread of California
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
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
"Being bilingual in South Florida, and
the rest of the world for that matter, is not a liability but an asset,"
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.