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Hearing on Federal ELL Case Gets Under Way in Arizona

Protesters weren't out in full force this morning as court proceedings got under way in a closely watched court case on Arizona's programs for English-language learners. But it wasn't for lack of intention.

Three supporters of parents involved in the Horne v. Flores lawsuit scratched plans to hold a demonstration in front of the U.S. District Courthouse here in Tucson, Ariz., this morning because they realized they needed a permit and didn't have one. Carole Edelsky, a retired professor of language and literacy education from Arizona State University, had prepared a sign saying that Arizona's program for ELLs, which separates them from other students for four hours each day to learn English skills, is "segregated educational inequality." Karen Austen, a retired teacher who just moved to Arizona from Ohio had painted a sign that said "Arizona: Working to restore segregation. Oh Dear." The third party was Sal Gabaldon, a language-acquisition specialist for Tucson public schools, who believes Arizona's approach to teaching ELLs isn't fair.

An evidentiary hearing began today in the case, which has attracted national attention. The case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court last April and remanded in June to the federal district court in Tucson to further examine "changed circumstances" in the education of ELLs since the case was first filed by parents of the Nogales, Ariz., school system in 1992. The case is called Flores v. State of Arizona back here in the state.

Tim Hogan, the lawyer for the Flores side of the case, said this morning that he will argue that Arizona's four-hour program "segregates and deprives ELLs of access to the curriculum." He said he'll also argue that the state's home-language survey, which asks only what is the primary language of a child as a first step for identifying ELLs, "reduces the number of ELLs entitled to such services."

Eric Bistrow, a lawyer for Tom Horne, the state's superintendent of public instruction, has told me previously that he will argue that the four-hour model is working. He said he'll also argue that the federal case should focus only on the education of ELLs in the Nogales school district and not districts across the whole state.

Look for my story tomorrow on what went on inside the courthouse.

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