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Bilingual ed debate could be one-sided

SUMMIT COUNTY – School administrators had hoped to present a balanced forum on a bilingual education issue to help voters make a decision on Amendment 31 in November’s election. But, the supporters of the initiative have backed out of the presentation.

Rita Montero, a former Denver Public School Board member who chairs the Colorado chapter of English for the Children, e-mailed Summit School District administration offices Friday, saying she wouldn’t be able to make Wednesday’s school board meeting. English for the Children, a group organized by Montero and California software entrepreneur Ron Unz, collected enough signatures to get a proposed anti-bilingual education constitutional amendment on next month’s election ballot.

Superintendent of Schools Wes Smith invited supporters and opponents of the proposed Amendment 31 to make presentations to Summit’s school board. Other school boards throughout the state have adopted resolutions and stances on the amendment, and Summit board members broached the possibility of taking a position at their Aug. 28 meeting. Montero and a representative of English Plus, a group organized against the amendment, both signed on to participate in the forum.



Among other requirements, Amendment 31, if passed, would limit non-native, English-speaking students to one year of sheltered instruction. The students would then, according to the amendment, be mainstreamed into regular classes. Schools would be allowed to issue “waivers” to students, allowing them more than the allotted year of sheltered instruction. Waiver requests would have to be initiated by the student’s parents.

The amendment also would provide parents the legal standing to sue anyone involved in granting the waiver for up to 10 years after the waiver is issued, if parents conclude that the waiver was granted in error or “injured the education of their child.”



The legal provision has prompted many conservatives, even critics of bilingual education, to oppose the amendment. Gov. Bill Owens spoke out against the issue Tuesday, and the four state candidates campaigning to represent Summit County – Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Boulder, Rep. Carl Miller, D-Leadville, and their respective Republican opponents, Gilpin County Commissioner Web Sill and Eagle-Vail attorney Heather Lemon – also announced their opposition to the initiative. Each cited the punitive language and threat to teachers in taking their stance, as well as the importance of local school board control.

Last weekend, a Fort Collins philanthropist with a child in a bilingual education program donated $3 million to the English Plus campaign against the amendment.

Summit school administrators wondered if the rising opposition had anything to do with Montero’s cancellation.

“I could have something to do with it, we don’t really know,” said Karen Mack, secretary of the school board. “Her e-mail said she wouldn’t be able to make it because a friend who was supposed to drive her up here had something else come up.”

Mack said the forum would take place as planned, since administrators had made a good faith effort to include both sides of the debate. The school board meets at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the central administration offices on School Road in Frisco.

Montero did not return a phone call to her home Saturday seeking comment. Her husband, however, said Montero has been making two or three presentations a day and, “Unfortunately, she can’t make them all.”

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 237 or rwilliams@summitdaily.com

Amendment 31 Info Online

? English for the Children – http://www.onenation.org

? Amendment opponents – http://www.no-on-31.org


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