After almost a decade of sending accent monitors into classrooms across the state to check on teachers’ articulation, the state of Arizona is ending the program after a federal investigation found possible civil rights violations, the New York Times reports.
“It was a repeated pattern of misuse of the language or mispronunciation of the language that we were looking for,” Andrew LeFevre, a spokesman for the State Department of Education told the Times. “It’s critically important that teachers act as models when it comes to language.”
The state says its teacher reviews were in line with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which requires that only instructors fluent in English teach students who are learning English. State education officials say that accents were never the focus of their monitoring.
But the federal review found that the state had written up teachers for pronouncing “the” as “da,” “another” as “anuder” and “lives here” as “leeves here.”
“I have the same credentials as everyone else, and I don’t think it’s fair that I’m being singled out,” elementary school teacher Guadalupe Aguayo, who’s based in Phoenix, explained.
“It’s a form of discrimination,” says Araceli Martínez-Olguín, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center in San Francisco, who is representing Aguayo in a discrimination complaint.
“To my knowledge, we have not seen policies like this in other states,” Russlynn H. Ali, the assistant federal secretary of education for civil rights, said in an interview. She called it “good news” that Arizona had altered its policy.
The state’s system for teaching limited-English students is also under review by federal investigators. Currently Arizona pulls students new to English out of their regular classrooms for four hours each day and many critics say students will never catch up with their peers and are being denied the opportunity to learn the language from English-speaking classmates.