Amendment 31 may change schools


— Many non-English-speaking students in the Steamboat Springs School District have a tutor that attends class with them and interprets phrases or information when the student needs help.

These students may face a change in the way they are taught if Amendment 31 passes.

Amendment 31 would eliminate bilingual education and require non-English-speaking students to catch up and participate in grade-level classes after one year.

Superintendent Cyndy Simms said the amendment applies primarily to Denver schools that have a high percentage of non-English-speaking students.

Amendment 31 recommends non-English speaking students be placed in classes with other students at their English level.

With very few non-English-speaking students in Steamboat schools, such a program would not be feasible or cost effective, Simms said.

She said the district receives about $2,000 a year for programs to assist non-English-speaking students. She said it costs about $18,000 a year to hire an aide to accompany a student to class and would cost even more to develop new educational programs that include all non-English-speaking students.

Simms also said one year may not be enough for some students to become proficient in English. She said younger students learn language much more quickly than older students, and high school students may need more time to catch up with their classes.

The potential for teachers, administrators and board members to face legal action if students do not benefit from the English language programs offered, as stated in the amendment, is a major concern to educators.

According to the amendment, parents have 10 years to sue district employees and the school board if the district members do not comply with the amendment.

The Steamboat Springs School Board passed a resolution encouraging voters not to pass the amendment.

Its resolution stated: "The board shares the belief advocated by Amendment 31 that every student needs to be fluent in English to be successful in this country, but believes that problems associated with the amendment outweigh any benefit."

The board agreed the punitive nature of the amendment is one of its primary faults.

The board also advocated that the amendment takes away local control to decide on education programs that are in the best interests of the students.

Colorado Mountain College's English as a second language teacher, Jennifer le Roux, said the bottom line is that people for or against the amendment believe children should learn English.

"Those who believe in nixing (Amendment) 31 would offer students the opportunity to learn English by allowing them the necessary time it takes to learn a language. Whereas those who support 31 would call for students to spend no more than one year in an immersion program," she said.

Le Roux said research shows that it takes one to two years for a person to reach fluency and about seven years to reach academic fluency.

"To place students who are not able to speak English into the mainstream will negatively impact all students," she said.

She said the amendment does not define what a bilingual program is and would cause a lot of valuable educational programs to be eliminated.

"What exactly is going to be outlawed if this amendment passes?" she questioned.


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