OPINION | Barry Richard: MA Lawmakers Appear Ready To Overturn Ballot Law On English-Immersion
On election night 2002 New Bedford State Rep. Tony Cabral vowed to me on WBSM that he would work to reverse the results of a ballot question mandating that with limited exceptions "all public school children must be taught English by being taught all subjects in English and being placed in English language classrooms." Voters approved of the ballot question that day by a 68-32 percent margin. Cabral may finally get his way.
The Massachusetts Senate is set to vote today on a bill that would overturn what I consider a mandate of the people. The English-Immersion Law Ballot Law appears to be in serious peril. Supporters of the repeal say English-Immersion has not delivered the promised results. The House Chair of the Joint Committee On Education, Democrat Alice Peisch, a Wellesley Democrat tells the State House News Service;
"Over the past almost 15 years since the ballot question passed, we have not seen much progress with English language learners. It certainly does not seem to me to have delivered on the promise of the people who pushed it."
Lincoln Tamayo, a Cuban immigrant who migrated to the U.S.as a child led the ballot campaign in Massachusetts. The State House News Service says Tamayo currently heads the Academy Prep Center Of Tampa, where students are educated six days a week and 11 months of the year with most school days running from 7am to 6:05pm. Tamayo says English-Immersion has been successful at his school. He spoke recently to the State House News Service about his motivation for the 2002 Massachusetts ballot initiative;
"We were creating education programs that were stunting the ability of our children to acquire as quickly as possible the language of success in our country. We were creating Spanish and Portuguese education ghettos in our public schools. I don't know why we're even thinking of going back to that situation again."
Under the bill being considered in the Senate, parents would be permitted to opt out of an English learner program and certain school districts that run language acquisition programs would need to establish English learner parent advisory councils.
Tamayo tells the State House News Service he is saddened by the effort to repeal English-Immersion saying it would deprive young non-native speakers of opportunities to soak up the "language of success" in classrooms through out the school day;
"That's a disaster for any child under the age of ten. We are wired as human beings to acquire language. And the younger we are, the way our brains are wired, we can acquire a language other than what we first heard coming out of our mother's womb."
I vividly recall covering this story as it unfolded, culminating with the passage of the ballot question on election night. I remember the anger in Cabral's voice when he vowed to see it overturned. I also remember my own anger that Cabral and others would so easily dismiss the will of the people that night.
I remember well the discussion with listeners, many of you had come to this country as children and spoke of the eagerness of young people to assimilate and to quickly learn the language in order to fit in. I remember many of you telling me about the ease with which a willing young mind could learn a new language in order to make that happen. And I remember the stigma you told me about that is associated with being segregated from others because of a language barrier.
This repeal effort is more about politicians who think they know better, getting their own way. This is about going backwards rather than forward.
This is about why we need to drain the Massachusetts swamp.
The House has already passed it's own version of a repeal bill. Both branches passed similar legislation last year but were unable to reach a compromise bill to send to the governor's desk.
Editor's Note: Barry Richard is the afternoon host on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from Noon-3pm. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
The State House News Service contributed "bigly" to this piece.