/ Modified apr 2, 2013 10:38 a.m.

State English Language Learning OK'd

Judge ends 21-year-old case with ruling favoring 'block' method

By Jude Joffe-Block, Fronteras Desk

A federal judge has ruled that Arizona is no longer violating federal law in the way it educates English language learners.

The case, Flores vs. Arizona, is a class-action lawsuit brought by parents of English language learners in Nogales in 1992 to challenge the way the state educates those students.

The case has gone up to the U.S. Supreme Court and come back down.

The latest opinion - in favor of Arizona - means the state can continue using a mandatory four-hour block to teach students English.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Tim Hogan of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, had argued in court that that model segregates English language learners and keeps them from learning other subjects.

"So they are deprived of all this academic content in the meantime, so they get farther behind their peers." Hogan said. "It is a prescription for failure for these kids."

In his opinion, U.S. District Judge Raner Collins found plaintiffs did not succeed in proving the state intended to discriminate against students by using the four-hour block, though he did suggest criticism of it.

"It appears that the state has made a choice in how it wants to spend funds on teaching students the English language," Collins wrote. "It may turn out to be penny wise and pound foolish, as at the end of the day, speaking English, and not having other educational gains in science, math, etc., will still leave some children behind.

"However, this lawsuit is no longer the vehicle to pursue the myriad of educational issues in this state."

Collins' opinion comes two years after a trial was held on the matter.

The ruling reverses the court's 2000 decision that found Arizona was not properly funding ELL education in violation of the federal Equal Education Opportunities Act.

Hogan said he has not decided if he will appeal.

In a statement, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal said the ruling validates that the state has made improvements in English language instruction since 1992.

Meanwhile, a complaint about the four-hour block is pending with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.

Fronteras Desk is a collaboration among public broadcasting entities in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas, including Arizona Public Media.

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