Hispanic members of Congress and supporters of bilingual education programs are upset over Education Secretary William J. Bennett's apparent plan to reappoint some vocal critics of bilingual education to the department's main advisory panel on the issue.
The names of the panel's members have not been officially announced, but some of the contenders confirmed that they have been told they will get seats when the panel is reconstituted.
The committee, the National Advisory and Coordinating Council on Bilingual Education, is a larger and more powerful version of the National Advisory Council on Bilingual Education, whose congressional mandate recently expired. Although the new council's role technically is merely advisory, it also has a hand in drafting regulations, advising local governments and conferring with the department's Office of Bilingual and Minority Language Affairs.
Three members of the old council who say they expect to be reappointed are its chairman, Anthony Torres; Howard Hurwitz and Robert E. Rossier -- all outspoken critics of bilingual education programs, in which children in U.S. schools are taught in their native language until they become proficient in English.
Rossier, for example, is the author of a 1983 article for The Washington Times headlined, "Bilingual Education: The New Latin Hustle," in which he said bilingual programs were maintained only to help bureaucrats, administrators and "power-seeking politicians."
Hurwitz, a contributing columnist to the conservative weekly Human Events, has written that the bilingual program -- indeed, the entire Education Department -- should be abolished.
The three have said they would like to change the tone of the advisory panel, which in the past has advocated the bilingual method of teaching students who are not proficient in English. That new tone was evident in the council's annual report, which this year, for the first time, advocated that other, alternative methods be "encouraged."
"I anticipate that, philosophically, the council will be more of that thinking," Rossier said in a telephone interview. "I think the administration had wanted a change in direction and tried to get more balance on the council . . . . They the Reagan administration have tried to get people on the council who represent a certain point of view"
The new council will have 20 members -- five more than the previous one -- and bilingual-education supporters are concerned that the administration will appoint more opponents. Rossier said one of those seats will go to Cipriano Castillo, a school administrator in Garden Grove, Calif., who has been critical of bilingual programs.
Bennett, in an interview Monday, would not name the people he planned to appoint. He said he will unveil his policy initiatives for the bilingual debate this fall. Some observers are speculating that he will propose a kind of voucher system that would give aid directly to parents of children who are not proficient in English and allow them to decide how to spend it.
But supporters of the bilingual method see the panel's membership as an indication of what they call the administration's "hidden agenda," to weaken the program by stacking the council with opponents.
"Their stated aim is to dismantle all of the bilingual education programs," said John Trasvina, a legislative attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. "They're supposed to be there to help the law work, but what they're doing is trying to destroy the law."
That group, along with the National Council of La Raza, the Consortium of Hispanic Organizations, the National Association for Bilingual Education, and the League of United American Citizens, have written Bennett, asking him to reconsider the appointments.
In a separate letter, 11 members of Congress, including Hispanic representatives and members who work closely on education matters, told Bennett, "We believe that individuals holding such extreme and insupportable opinions have no place on a council whose purpose is to provide reasoned and objective advice to the secretary."