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Some Valley schools accused of illegally teaching dual language programs

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Posted at 5:25 PM, May 16, 2023

PHOENIX — Arizona’s top schools chief is looking to crack down on dual language programs in schools, saying some of them are operating illegally.

In one 2nd grade classroom at Bret Tarver Leadership Academy in Phoenix, students are learning phonics in English. In the class next door, they’re being taught math and shapes in Spanish.

The same students then switch classes halfway through the day and are learning in the opposite language they did the first half of the day. That’s what the dual language program is and more schools across the state are providing them.

“Dual language programs really provide our students with a skill set that they get,” said Joy Weiss, the principal of Tarver Leadership Academy. “Being bilingual is a skill. We live in a very global world where having multiple languages behind us really helps us as we’re growing and entering the workforce as adults.”

“It's giving students incredible opportunity to become bilingual, bicultural and really expose them to new languages,” added Stephanie Parra, the executive director of All In Education, a pro-education organization.

However, Arizona Superintendent Tom Horne believes the dual language program is being done illegally in some cases. He says students, whose first language is not English, should not be taught in other languages.

“The first priority is they must learn English and they can't be taught in another language until they're proficient in English,” he said.

Horne refers to Prop 203 that voters passed in 2000, specifically pointing to a certain provision.

All children in Arizona public schools shall be taught English by being taught in English and all children should be placed in English-language classrooms, the provision reads.

Horne says he knows certain schools are violating the law because he talked with people involved in the program and those who administer the English immersion program in those schools.

“I’m passionately in the favor of studying other languages once you’re proficient in English, but the first priority is to learn English. That’s important to survive in school and in life after school,” he said.

At Tarver Leadership Academy, parents choose if they want their children to be part of the dual language program to learn different educational content in different languages.

 “We know that bilingualism is a skill and I would just say it’s up to the parents, regardless of personal beliefs. Parents get to make that choice and we want to support our parents in the school,” Weiss said.

Advocates hope the program will not go away.

Horne said he won’t get rid of it for English-speaking students, however, the Arizona Department of Education has consulted with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office about it.

The AG’s Office said it could not confirm or deny topics that may have been discussed with “client agencies due to attorney-client privilege.”

ABC15 asked whether or not Horne will take legal action. He says they “don’t need to take legal action.”

“I would just start with teach them, inform them, if they defy the law, cut off their funds,” Horne said.