Chinese Americans protest at City Hall in fight for bilingual education

Nearly 200 people, including city councilmen, educators, community leaders and Seward Park High School teachers and parents, protested in front of City Hall for the preservation of bilingual classes at Seward Park High School and to emphasize that immigrants’ education should not be discriminated against.

They held signs that said “Bilingual Education is the Path for Immigrants to Enter Mainstream Society,” “Using Only English is Racist,” “We Will Not Disappoint Your Expectations for Bilingual Education.”

Citycouncilman John Liu said that the purpose of bilingual education was not to learn English, but for students to learn physics, geography, math and other subjects using their native languages. Eng Tan-tin, Chair of the Chinatown Association, and other representatives from the Chinatown community argued for the importance of bilingual education for immigrant students. They also requested that the Department of Education maintain bilingual education for children of residents in Chinese neighborhoods. Tsu Bien-shu, Board member of the National Association of Bilingual Education, emphasized that Seward Park High School had currently the nation’s largest bilingual education system.

She said, “High school should become a model for bilingual education that serves immigrant students.”

Chou Xiao-tin, who attended 10th grade at Seward Park High School, said that when she was in bilingual classes in 9th grade, her grade average in every subject was in the 90s. However, when she was transferred to the Immersion Program in grade 10 due to her grade improvement, “because there was too much English vocabulary, my grades dropped into the 80s.” According to her, many of her classmates failed to pass due to the transfer, and so when 26 of them complained to the principal, they were transferred back to bilingual classes. Consequently, her grades became good again.

Ninth grade student Cheng Wui-gong, who came from Fuzhou just a year ago and whose younger brother currently attends M.S. 131, said, “He does not really know how to speak English. Now that Seward Park is not recruiting students, our family is afraid that he can’t adjust.” Shelly Rappaport, policy analyst of the Hispanic Federation indicated that in 1997 the percentage of high school students inscribed in bilingual education in New York State was about 51.4% while this year was only 40.7%. This showed that with government cutbacks bilingual education is gradually disappearing.

“And now we don’t know the state of next year’s bilingual education,” she said.

Tsu Ying, Chair of Asian American Communications, for the City Department of Education, said in an email that the department understood the necessity of bilingual education for Chinese learners of English and it would consider the needs of the community. Moreover, there would be new standards for classes and faculty.

Zhang Zi-dong, vice-president of PTA at Seward Park High School, asked City Councilman John Liu to deliver their 340 petition letters to the mayor and the Chancellor of Education.

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