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Massachusetts English in Public Schools Initiative, Question 2 (2002)

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The Massachusetts English Language Education in Public Schools Initiative, also known as Question 2, was on the November 5, 2002 ballot in Massachusetts as an initiated state statute. It was approved.

It sought to require that, with limited exceptions, all public school children must be taught English by being taught all subjects in English and being placed in English language classrooms.

Election results

Question 2 (English in Public Schools)
Approveda Yes 1,359,935 61.25%

Official results via: The Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth Elections Division

Text of measure


The following is the Attorney General's summary:

This proposed law would replace the current state law providing for transitional bilingual education in public schools with a law requiring that, with limited exceptions, all public school children must be taught English by being taught all subjects in English and being placed in English language classrooms.
The proposed law would require public schools to educate English learners (children who cannot do ordinary classwork in English and who either do not speak English or whose native language is not English) through a sheltered English immersion program, normally not lasting more than one year. In the program, all books and nearly all teaching would be in English, with the curriculum designed for children learning English, although a teacher could use a minimal amount of a child’s native language when necessary. Schools would be encouraged to place in the same classroom children who are from different native-language groups but who have the same level of English skills. Once a student is able to do regular schoolwork in English, the student would be transferred to an English language mainstream classroom. These requirements would not affect special education programs for physically or mentally impaired students or foreign language classes for children who already know English.
Parents or guardians of certain children could apply each year to have the requirements waived, so as to place their child in bilingual education or other classes, if the parents or guardians visit the school to be informed, in a language they can understand, about all available options. To obtain a waiver, the child must either
  1. already know English; or
  2. be at least 10 years old, and the school principal and staff believe that another course of study would be better for the child’s educational progress and rapid learning of English; or
  3. have special physical or psychological needs (other than lack of English skills), have already spent 30 days in an English language classroom during that school year, the school principal and staff document their belief that the child’s special needs make another course of study better for the child’s educational progress and rapid learning of English, and the school superintendent approves the waiver.
If 20 or more students in one grade level at a school receive waivers, the school would have to offer either bilingual education classes providing instruction in both the student’s native language and English or classes using other generally recognized educational methodologies permitted by law. In other cases, a student receiving a waiver would have to be allowed to transfer to a school offering such classes.
A parent or guardian could sue to enforce the proposed law and, if successful, would receive attorney’s fees, costs and compensatory money damages. Any school employee, school committee member or other elected official or administrator who willfully and repeatedly refused to implement the proposed law could be personally ordered to pay such fees, costs, and damages; could not be reimbursed for that payment by any public or private party; and could not be elected to a school committee or employed in the public schools for 5 years. Parents or guardians of a child who received a waiver based on special needs could sue if, before the child reaches age 18, they discover that the application for a waiver was induced by fraud or intentional misrepresentation and injured the child’s education.
All English learners in grades kindergarten and up would take annual standardized tests of English skills. All English learners in grades 2 and up would take annual written standardized tests, in English, of academic subjects. Severely learning disabled students could be exempted from the tests. Individual scores would be released only to parents, but aggregate scores, school and school district rankings, the number of English learners in each school and district, and related data would be made public.
The proposed law would provide, subject to the state Legislature’s appropriation, $5 million each year for 10 years for school committees to provide free or low-cost English language instruction to adults who pledged to tutor English learners.
The proposed law would replace the current law, under which a school committee must establish a transitional bilingual education program for any 20 or more enrolled children of the same language group who cannot do ordinary classwork in English and whose native language is not English or whose parents do not speak English. In that program, schools must teach all required courses in both English and the child’s native language; teach both the native language and English; and teach the history and culture of both the native land of the child’s parents and the United States. Teaching of non-required subjects may be in a language other than English, and for subjects where verbalization is not essential (such as art or music), the child must participate in regular classes with English-speaking students.
Under the current law, a child stays in the program for 3 years or until the child can perform successfully in English-only classes, whichever occurs first. A test of the child’s English skills is given each year. A school committee may not transfer a child out of the program before the third year unless the parents approve and the child has received an English-skills test score appropriate to the child’s grade level. A child may stay in the program longer than 3 years if the school committee and the parent or guardian approve. Parents must be informed of their child’s enrollment in the program and have the right to withdraw their child from the program.
The proposed law’s testing requirements would take effect immediately, and its other requirements would govern all school years beginning after the proposed law’s effective date. The proposed law states that if any of its parts were declared invalid, the other parts would stay in effect.[1]

Full text

The full text of the legislation proposed by the question is available here.

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The initiative was sponsored by English for the Children of Massachusetts, chaired by Lincoln Tamayo, Christine Rossell and Rosalie Pedalino Porter. They argued the following:

  • For the last thirty years, state law required that immigrant students be segregated into native language classrooms, often for many years. Many of these students never learn to read English, write English, or even speak English. As a result, they were denied the same opportunities for success as children born here.
  • “Bilingual education” has been a failed experiment, but bilingual education teachers and administrators, as well as Massachusetts legislators, have refused to admit this disastrous failure and have defended this system, destroying the lives of countless immigrant students.
  • Under the proposed measure, children who don’t know English would be placed in an intensive sheltered English immersion program, teaching them English as quickly as possible. Once they learn English, they would be enrolled in regular classes.


The initiative was opposed by the Committee for Fairness to Children & Teachers, chaired by Tim Duncan. Duncan argued that, if passed, the proposed law would allow teachers to be personally sued for using a child's native language to help them learn, quoting the following passage of the law:

“The parent or legal guardian of any school child shall have legal standing to sue for enforcement of the provisions of this chapter, and if successful shall be awarded reasonable attorney’s fees, costs, and compensatory damages.”

Duncan also argued that a similar system had failed in California, and that the new system would cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

The members of the state legislature's Joint Committee on Education, Arts and Humanities stated that they "strongly and unanimously" rejected the initiative. The committee called the proposed law overly simplistic and inflexible, arguing that the initiative ignores the fact that there is more than one proven method to teach English by mandating all students be taught by a single method and restricting the choices of local school districts.

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