The League of United Latin American Citizens blasted Arizona in front of Democratic presidential candidates Monday, saying the state tramples Hispanic students’ rights to speak Spanish at school.
LULAC’s education chairman, Silverio Garcia Jr., who is planning a federal lawsuit either against the state or some school districts, stood before a national audience at the LULAC-sponsored presidential candidate forum in Phoenix.
"We are blatantly violating civil rights education law," Garcia told a cheering crowd. "Forty years ago we struggled for the civil rights act, and here we are violating it because of the false perception of English-only."
LULAC has filed dozens of federal complaints against districts, including Scottsdale and Paradise Valley unified, and the East Valley Institute of Technology in Mesa.
Recent cases include:
• The Scottsdale school board on Jan. 15 voted to fire former Ingleside Middle School English Immersion teacher Kim Youngblood, 52, after eight students complained she slapped and yelled at them, partly for speaking in Spanish during class.
• EVIT decided to change its rule to allow speaking Spanish after a cosmetology student complained.
Spokesman Tom Herrmann said the Scottsdale Unified School District has been training teachers to allow native languages spoken for clarification.
"We not only don’t punish kids for speaking their native language, but it’s allowed," he said. "The idea is to help them learn English."
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said Garcia only speaks for a small minority upset since he began enforcing a provision in Prop. 203 that requires students speak English proficiently before parents can opt out of English immersion in favor of bilingual education.
"The vast majority of Latino people want their children to learn English," Horne said. He said teachers are instructed to allow a native language spoken for translation or clarification. In 2002 he pushed the Paradise Valley Unified School District, where he was a longtime board member, to change its rule that prohibited Spanish speaking in class.
"It has to be applied with common sense," Horne said. "As long as the teaching itself is fundamentally in English."