Object to Bilingual Program : Columbus Parents Ask for English-Only Classes

Times Staff Writer

A group of Glendale residents has begun a petition drive asking the school district to provide separate English-only classes for their children in elementary school, instead of mixing them with Latino, Asian and Armenian students who are just learning the language.

Marilyn King, who describes herself as the informal leader of the group, said that she and other parents of pupils at Columbus Elementary School are worried that their native-born, English-speaking children are not getting enough work or attention from teachers in the school’s bilingual classrooms.

At Columbus, Cerritos, Edison and Mann elementary schools, a large influx of Latino, Armenian and Asian immigrants has made it impossible for the district to provide classes for English-only students, Glendale Unified School District officials said.

King said that she and other parents have gathered about 80 signatures from Columbus School parents, as well as about 200 from other Glendale residents, asking that the district provide at least one classroom at each grade level at every school for children whose parents don’t want them mixed in with children who are not fluent in English.


“Those students are getting more funding, more books and teacher aides,” King said of the children just learning English. “They are getting all the attention and the money.”

Columbus Principal Stephen Smith denies that English-speaking children are being held back in bilingual classrooms.

“There is no time that an English-only child would ever receive any instruction in the Spanish or Armenian language,” Smith said. “Nor is there any time when an English-speaking student would have to sit and wait while instruction in Spanish or Armenian is ongoing.”

As in most elementary schools, Columbus students often work in separate groups, Smith said. The teacher or a bilingual aide speaks to children in a language other than English only when other students are reading or working on projects in another part of the classroom, he said.


Students who know little or no English are given special instruction in English in a separate classroom, Smith said.

State law requires that a bilingual program must be provided when at least 10 children in any grade level are more fluent in a language other than English. The law also requires that those students share the classroom with English-speaking children.

“We are operating under legislation from Sacramento that literally dictates to us the structure of these classrooms,” school district spokesman Vic Pallos said. “We can’t just put all the Spanish-speaking kids in one classroom.

“By law, we have to have a class with two-thirds minority students to one-third fluent English speakers, which makes it mathematically impossible to have an English-only classroom at some schools.”


All three classes in each of the first through third grades at Columbus are bilingual. The majority of students in those grades grew up speaking Spanish or Armenian, according to district records. They learn English as part of the bilingual program.

Some subjects, such as arithmetic, are taught only in the students’ native languages in separate groups.

Although district officials say they are simply complying with the law, King says they are slowing her first-grade daughter’s education.

“Yesterday she brought home her first spelling words: man, fat, cat,” King said. “Those are the same words she learned to spell in kindergarten. . . . Kids at other schools are bringing home workbooks for adding and subtracting. So why does my kid bring home her coloring?”


King said the parents will wait until the beginning of the year to take the issue to the Glendale school board. Although conceding that the bilingual program is a state issue, King said she believes that the local board should cooperate with parents seeking English-only classrooms.

‘Power to Change Things’

“The district has the power to change things,” King said. “I understand that Glendale is not going to be what it was like in 1958. . . . But what is happening is that the Anglo people are afraid we are getting taken over.”

The shift from traditional classroom teaching has come quickly at Columbus. In the past five years, the bilingual program has been expanded from one class to 17 of the 20 classes in kindergarten through sixth grade, Smith said.


Nearly half of the district’s 20,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade are not native English speaking, according to district records. The biggest concentration of students with limited English fluency is in the district’s elementary schools.

Burbank resident Kaye Smith said she moved from Glendale this summer because her four children were in bilingual classes at Columbus. She said she started the fight that King and others are now continuing. Her children are not in bilingual classes at the Burbank schools they attend, she said.

‘Children Get Hurt’

“Whenever bilingual hits, the children get hurt,” said Smith, who is assisting the Glendale petition drive. “All we are saying is that parents should have a choice.”


Dede Garcia, another parent active in the petition drive, said she has spoken with many Spanish-speaking parents who are opposed to bilingual education. “They claim that, in their opinion, it is not working,” she said.

However, two Spanish-speaking mothers of children attending Columbus said this week that they are pleased with the bilingual program.

“I think that my child is doing well in the program,” Maria Flores said.

Flores’ neighbor, Maria Eugenia, who also has a child at Columbus, said: “As long as they can learn English, it will be good for them.”