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Department To Reconsider Controversial Bilingual-Ed. Rules

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.-U.S. Education Department officials said last week that they would request comments on several issues before drafting recommendations for revamping federal bilingual-education programs, which are to be reauthorized in 1993.

Rita Esquivel, the director of the office of bilingual education and minority-languages affairs, urged educators at an OBEMLA management training institute here to comment on issues her office will raise in a Federal Register notice this week or next.

A draft of the notice solicits comment on regulations dealing with which programs are funded through Title VII of the act and which students are placed in them, and on proposals to provide new forms of training for teachers and parents of limited-English-proficient children, said Nguyen Ngoc Bich, the office's deputy director.

The fact that the office will raise certain issues does not mean it has taken a stand on them, agency officials stressed. In light of recent research, the office will consider significantly loosening limits on the amount of time children may spend in certain federal bilingual-education programs.

Currently, no child may remain more than five years in federally funded programs for transitional bilingual education, developmental bilingual education, and other areas.

But a major longitudinal study of bilingual programs released by the department last year suggested that bilingual programs that keep children for longer periods may be more effective, and other research has concluded that it may take up to seven years for an L.E.P. child to be mainstreamed into regular classes. ('See Education Week, Feb. 20, 1991 .)

Several participants at the institute, held here in conjunction with the annual conference of the National Association for Bilingual Education, told department officials that such time limits need to be relaxed.

Other Proposals

James J. Lyons, the executive director of NABE, predicted that NABE members would respond far more negatively to another question to be raised by the department: Whether to remove the 25 percent cap on the proportion of federal bilingual funds that may be spent on special alternative instructional programs, which instruct only in English.

A senior official of the bilingual office said the cap has not been reached in the past but nevertheless might hinder the agency in dealing with certain immigrant influxes.

Mr. Lyons predicted little demand for such programs, which, he said, are appropriate only when districts must deal with small numbers of L.E.P. children who speak many different languages.

The issue has been a politically charged one in the past, when Reagan Administration officials, often hostile to transitional bilingual programs, sought to remove the cap entirely.

No funds could be spent on called "English only" programs until 1984, when a heated debate produced a compromise that capped funding for them at 4 percent of available funds. In 1988, the Reagan Administration succeeded in raising it from 4 percent to 25 percent.

Bilingual-office officials said the Federal Register notice will include four other proposed modifications:

  • New requirements that districts ensure that parents know and understand why their children are placed in certain bilingual programs. Districts could be asked to instruct the parents of L.E.P. children in how to work with the American education system.
  • A relaxation of the current 40 percent limit on the number of English speaking children in a district who may attend transitional bilingual classes.

The requirement is supposed to prevent districts from segregating L.E.P. students, but district officials argue that they need more flexibility.

  • Changes that will make it easier for private schools to benefit from bilingual programs in their local public-school systems.
  • Additional grant funding for the in-service training of bilingual teachers and the relaxation of training-grant requirements to make it easier for teacher aides to become certified bilingual instructors.

Bilingual-office officials said they plan to take public comment on these and other issues at hearings to be held next month in Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Washington, and Charlotte, N.C.

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