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Bilingual Education Column

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The Greek-born mayor of Westfield, Mass., was among local residents who recently tried to ban teachers with accents from the district's elementary classrooms.

Mayor George Varelas, who himself speaks with an accent, was among the more than 400 residents who signed a petition objecting to the employment of primary-school teachers who speak with an accent.

The petition was drafted when the district proposed reassigning two bilingual-education teachers to regular classrooms after their students had been mainstreamed.

The petitioners said their "wish and strong demand'' was that children be taught basic courses by people whose English usage and pronunciation are "proficient and consistent with the basic rules of phonetics of the English language.''

In the hubbub that ensued, Piedad Robertson, the state's commissioner of education, said the proposal fostered bigotry.

Petitioners denied any disrespect for various ethnic groups, and said they acted only out of concern that children would not learn English correctly if taught by teachers with an accent.

School-board members killed the proposal last month after the district's lawyers advised that the ban would be unenforceable and the state's attorney general, Scott Harshbarger, threatened a civil-rights suit if they adopted it.


To educate language-minority students effectively in elementary and secondary schools, the nation should look for help from colleges and universities, the U.S. Department of Education concludes in a recently issued annual report.

The department's 1992 report to the Congress and the President on the condition of bilingual education asserts that, when it comes to educating limited-English-proficient students, the nation "possesses a largely untapped potential'' in the direct collaboration between local education agencies and institutions of higher education.

The report calls for increased federal funding for educating more bilingual teachers and for staff training that will help mainstream elementary and secondary teachers deal more effectively with L.E.P. students.

Over the past year, the report states, the department's office of bilingual education and minority-languages affairs has attempted to stretch its budget dollar by focusing more attention and resources on higher-education programs that train teachers to work with L.E.P. students.

Accordingly, the report notes, the agency has convened discussions with deans of education schools and awarded grants to train higher-education faculty members to, in turn, train teachers to work with L.E.P. students.

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