Top Arizona Education Official Wants to Segregate Non-English Speaking Students in Schools

New Arizona State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, a Republican, waves to the crowd after speaking and taking the ceremonial oath of office in a public ceremony at the state Capitol in Phoenix, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

By Josh Bootzin

July 17, 2023

“Students should not be treated differently because they speak another language.”

English learners, parents, and teachers gathered at the state Capitol Thursday to protest Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne’s attack on Arizona’s dual language programs.

Stand for Children Arizona, a nonprofit that seeks to empower community members to speak out for children at the state and local level, led the charge to deliver 2,833 community signatures to Horne and the state board of education.

“Students should not be treated differently because they speak another language,” said Rep. Alma Hernandez, a former dual language student. “We should not be told that you’re only allowed to speak English. We should be encouraging and helping those students succeed in life.”

Horne believes that English learners – students who are not considered to have attained proficiency in English – should be predominantly instructed in English, as per Arizona Proposition 203, an initiative that limited the type of instruction available to English language learners.

“Proposition 203, the voter protected initiative passed in 2000, specified that classes for English Language Learners must be taught in English,’” Horne said in a statement. “‘All children in Arizona public schools shall be taught English by being taught in English and all children shall be placed in English language classrooms.’ Dual language classes, typically taught for half of each day in Spanish, are an obvious violation of this initiative.”

RELATED: Arizona’s $15M Investment in Dual Enrollment Will Help More Low-income Students Access College

HCR 2026, a bill proposed to the Arizona House of Representatives in 2019, attempted to repeal Proposition 203 and support districts being able to create their own education strategies for English learners.

Stand for Children Arizona has been at the forefront of defending the rights of English learners, calling for a halt to Horne’s campaign against dual language instruction.

“It meant a better future for students like my son, Jorge,” Georgina Monsalvo, organizing director for Stand for Children Arizona, said about the 2019 bill. “These reforms have allowed my son to master English while participating in the regular curriculum, an opportunity many of us did not have. Fast forward to today, we find ourselves in a state of uncertainty and apprehension caused by Superintendent Horne’s overreach of authority and his decision to unlawfully modify the dual language model.”

Horne said he is not attempting to shut down dual language classes, but believes students who have yet to achieve English proficiency receive most, if not all, of their instruction in English rather than their native language.

Once these students reach English proficiency, Horne believes they should be allowed to join dual language programs where they’ll be able to receive some instruction in their native language.

Arizona’s federal representatives are most interested in halting the confusion and uncertainty they believe Horne’s statements have caused.

“I stand here today and ask the state board of education to release a statement to all our schools to inform them of what is currently allowable by state law,” said Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Paradise Valley. “This level of assurance is urgent as schools prepare to start the next school year in just a matter of weeks.”

Horne has sent notices to 26 districts regarding their conduct of dual language classes, and these notices have only caused more confusion, critics say.

“I refuse to sit here and allow other lawmakers like Tom Horne to politicize this and make this into something that is bad,” said Rep. Alma Hernandez, a former dual language student. “Students should not be treated differently because they speak another language. We should not be told that you’re only allowed to speak English. We should be encouraging and helping those students succeed in life.”

RELATED: Spellbound: Arizona Middle Schoolers Compete in National Spelling Bee

Another former dual language student, Monsalvo remembers how she was segregated from other students for up to four hours a day before she was deemed proficient in English.

Under Proposition 203, English learners were to be completely segregated for one year while they only learn in English and achieve English proficiency. However, since this instruction wasn’t in their native language, many would be held back for more than a year.

“We need the state board to act and insist on the accessibility of improved models for all English learners,” Monsalvo said. “We urge the board to ensure protections for the 50/50 dual language model by July 19, a step crucial to avoiding the segregation of students and ensuring the continuity in their educational journey.”

The state board of education didn’t have dual language immersion as an approved model until 2019. Since students start in kindergarten, there hasn’t been enough time to judge the long-term effectiveness of the programs in Arizona.

“Superintendent Horne cannot produce any statistical evidence that dual language immersion doesn’t work,” said Maria Cristina Ladas, founder of the Arizona Dual Language Immersion Network.

Ladas thinks Arizona should look to places with a richer dual language history for evidence.

“Many other states in our country have been doing dual language immersion for decades and have been tracking data,” Ladas said. “We should look at that data. The undeniable success behind dual language immersion stands on valid and reliable research studies, but for some reason, Superintendent Horne continues to site old bilingual education research from sources like Education Next that, after a quick fact check, shows that it uses data from the 1980s on Hispanic ESL students in 10th grade.”

No new legislation has been introduced by Horne or the Board of Education, but Horne’s recent anti-dual language rhetoric has officials, parents and teachers worried about the state of English learners immersion programs going forward.

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