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Judge tosses challenge of Arizona programs that teach non-English speaking students

Judge ruled districts are required to use language immersion models approved by the state Board of Education
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Posted at 9:46 AM, Mar 11, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-11 13:10:00-04

PHOENIX — A judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Arizona's schools chief that challenged programs that some school districts use to teach non-English speaking students.

Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne argued dual language programs – in which students spend half the day learning English and the other half focusing on another language — violate a 2000 voter-approved law that requires those students to be taught only in English, a local radio station reported.

In a ruling Tuesday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper concluded Horne lacked the statutory authority and legal standing to file the lawsuit and that he failed to state legal claims against Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes and 10 school districts.

In dismissing the case, Cooper ruled districts are required to use language immersion models approved by the state Board of Education, and the dual language models used by the 10 districts named in the lawsuit had that approval.

“The State Board, not the School Districts, are responsible for developing and approving the immersion models. ... The School Districts, like all public and charter schools, are required to follow a model as approved by the State Board,” Cooper wrote.

Cooper ruled that neither Hobbs nor Mayes have any role in implementing or approving language models under the voter-approved law, so “none of the Defendant Parties has the ability to effect the relief he seeks.”

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Last year, Mayes issued an opinion at the request of Democrats in the Arizona Legislature that concluded only the state education board, and not the superintendent of public instruction, has the authority to decide whether schools are in compliance with state laws governing how schools teach English language learners.

Horne’s attorneys argued that opinion is incorrect, but Cooper wrote that is not grounds for a lawsuit. “An opinion by the Attorney General is just that, an opinion. It is not actionable. It is advisory and has no legally binding effect,” Cooper wrote.

Cooper wrote that the Legislature gave the state Board of Education the authority to monitor school districts’ compliance with state and federal law, and the ability to file lawsuits if violations occur. She also ruled that Prop. 203 gives parents and guardians the power to file lawsuits to enforce that law.

In a statement, Horne said he will appeal the ruling and that a parent will file a similar lawsuit that would have more dire consequences for districts.