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Illinois, Ignoring Protests, Loosens Bilingual-Education Rules

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Springfield, Ill--Despite the angry protests of Hispanic parents, the Illinois State Board of Education has endorsed revisions of requirements governing bilingual education.

The board approved the changes recommended by State Superintendent Donald G. Gill by a vote of 10-5 and then promptly adjourned last week after a demonstration by more than 200 Hispanic parents prevented its consideration of similar proposals relating to physical education and driver training. It was the board's first action on statewide mandates after two years of study, including hearings and discussion by the board's policy and planning committee.

The revisions, which must be approved by the State General Assembly, call for continuing the present procedures of the Chicago school district, where most bilingual services are provided, but easing requirements for downstate districts.

The present mandate requires a "transitional" bilingual program in every school that enrolls at least 20 students with a common language other than English, and that rule would continue to apply in Chicago. But in the rest of the state, the board-backed revisions would extend services to all students with limited proficiency in English by removing specific rules directing the instructional approach that the districts must use.

The proposed changes would also remove the requirement that the history and culture of the students' country of origin be part of a bilingual program, although the revised policy urges that such instruction be continued.

'Perfect Plan'

Carmen Velasquez, a former member of the Chicago School Board and a leader of the Hispanic parent group told the state board that its proposal was "a perfect plan to eliminate bilingual education."

The groups complained that parent volunteers or teachers' aides could replace full-time certified teachers in bilingual programs if requirements were relaxed in downstate districts.

Ms. Velasquez also said she was worried that downstate lawmakers might be reluctant to approve bilingual funding if their own school districts were not required to offer the services, thus endangering the $12 million in state financing for the Chicago bilingual effort.

In addition, the parents' group ques-tioned whether the state board could legally impose different rules for downstate districts and Chicago. And Hispanic leaders sought assurances that they would have a major role in drafting new rules and regulations if the legislature votes to put the board's plan into effect.

Superintendent Gill said the charge that his plan would "eliminate bilingual education" was "utter nonsense." "We have much more emotion and heat than light on the subject," he added.

He said the plan would expand bilingual services to students not currently served and allow school districts to be more inno-vative in attacking problems of non-English-speaking pupils.

The board is scheduled to return to the topic of state mandates at its next meeting, when it will consider the physical-education and driver-training recommendations as well as requirements for such instructional programs as health and consumer education.

The board's policy and planning committee has decided to postpone consideration by the full board of the special-education mandate report, which caused substantial controversy when it was debated during public hearings last year.

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