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Bilingual Education Column

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A federal appeals court has agreed with a lower-court ruling that an Arizona law establishing English as the state's official language is unconstitutional.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, based in San Francisco, ruled last month that the amendment to the Arizona Constitution that voters narrowly approved in 1988 violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects freedom of speech.

Leaders of the group Arizonans for Official English, which spearheaded the amendment, said they will likely appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

While saying it recognized "the importance of promoting national unity" through a common language, the appellate court said the state cannot ban the use of other languages.

An estimated 17 states have "official English" laws.

A state employee brought the original suit against the state, claiming she feared retribution if she spoke Spanish in her job. (See Education Week, 02/14/90.)

The executive director of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus will become the first associate director for legislation, policy, and public relations for the National Association for Bilingual Education.

Richard V. L¢pez. began working for the caucus in 1991 as the legislative director and took over as the executive director in 1993. He has worked on legislation in areas such as bilingual education and immigration for the caucus and individual members of Congress.

The caucus was one of 28 such groups whose Capitol Hill offices were targeted for elimination by the new Republican majority in the U.S. House.

A commission appointed by Gov. William F. Weld of Massachusetts to study bilingual-education programs has concluded there were not enough data to judge them.

Because many students who do not speak English are not included in the statewide assessment program, data on their performance are limited, the panel's report said.

The panel was created as part of a package of education reforms signed into law in 1993.

The reforms call for students with limited English proficiency who are participating in bilingual-education programs to be tested in their native tongues.

Roughly 12 percent of the state's enrollment speak a language other than English.

Copies of the report are available free by writing to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Education, Room 1401, McCormack Building, 1 Ashburton Place, Boston, Mass. 02108-1696.

--Lynn Schnaiberg

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