Caitlin Sievers, Arizona Mirror

‘You think that you’re dumb’: Graduates of Arizona's English immersion model say it was traumatizing

As the Arizona Department of Education continues its fight to teach English language learners through full immersion, the department’s deputy chief said that she’s never heard that the learning model contributes to mental health issues for students.

But several former students who learned English that way told the Arizona Mirror that their experience with full English language immersion contributed to an educational experience that felt isolating, confusing and sometimes even depressing. It also left them lagging behind their peers in other subjects.

Reyna Montoya, founder and CEO of Aliento, an immigration advocacy group, was born in Tijuana, Mexico, and moved to Chandler with her family in 2003 when she was 13 years old. At the time, she knew almost no English, but Montoya had been an exceptional student in Mexico, where she excelled in math and participated in poetry contests.

But at Gilbert Junior High, she was pulled out of regular classes for four hours each day to learn English, and some of her peers in mainstream classes treated her like she was less-than because of it.

“I would cry myself to sleep,” she said. She would pray to God, saying, “I’m trying but I can’t.” She also had intrusive thoughts like, “I don’t want to be here anymore.”

Now, she said she worries about how that same model might impact students today. And she’s not alone, as at least one study has shown that the model can contribute to students’ psychological distress.

“I think my biggest concern is their self-confidence and the mental health toll it takes,” Montoya said. “At that age, you’re trying to fit in. You’re trying to belong, to be part of something. And by doing that, you’re segregating kids and you’re pointing out that, those kids here, you’re the dumb kids — and they internalize that.”

Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Margaret Garcia Dugan, who helped to author Proposition 203, the voter-approved law requiring English learners in K-12 schools to learn through full English immersion, said she and her nine siblings — along with 160 first cousins — all learned English through that model with zero mental health impacts.

“I’ve never heard of anybody having mental anguish,” Dugan told the Mirror. “I think this is ideological.”

Dugan, who grew up in Bisbee and whose first language was Spanish, taught students in sheltered English immersion classes at Glendale High School, and said all the students who she promoted to mainstream classrooms were “very, very appreciative that they came to this country to learn English, and they did.”

But Dugan’s time teaching English as a second language ended more than 35 years ago, when the stigma surrounding mental health issues limited students from seeking help or talking about their problems in a way that doesn’t exist at the same level today.

Dugan taught English and English as a second language at Glendale High School from 1974 to 1986. She went on to serve as the school’s principal from 1992 to 2002, when she joined Republican Tom Horne’s administration at the Department of Education. (Horne was first elected superintendent of public instruction in 2002 and re-elected in 2006. He was again elected to the post in 2022.)

Dugan added that, if parents don’t want their children to participate in ELL, they can opt out and just send their child straight to a mainstream classroom. But unless that child’s school has adopted a learning model that includes additional support for English learners in mainstream classrooms, she said that students would essentially be learning by “sink or swim.”

That’s exactly what happened to Erick Garcia, the digital manager at Aliento, who moved to Mesa from a small town in the state of Vera Cruz, Mexico, when he was 11 years old.

Garcia started out attending English as a second language classes in fifth grade. But once he began attending Stapley Junior High, he opted out of those classes because there weren’t enough English learner students at the school and he would have had to split his days at another junior high to continue them.

Even though Garcia went on to become a first-generation college graduate, he said he still sometimes struggles to find the right words in English.

“I kind of got lost,” Garcia said, adding that, although he soon understood conversational English, comprehending more complex subjects in his textbooks was a challenge.

Even though Garcia still managed to get As and Bs, the experience took a mental toll.

“It’s frustrating because, at that age, you second guess yourself and think that you’re dumb,” he said.

You’re segregating kids and you’re pointing out that, those kids here, you’re the dumb kids — and they internalize that.

– Reyna Montoya

Garcia credits his high school Russian teacher for inviting him to take advantage of Westwood High School’s career center, where he learned the importance of SAT scores and extracurricular activities for helping him make it to college.

He worries that if current ESL students are pulled out of their regular classes for four hours each day to learn English, it will limit their opportunities.

Montoya experienced just that, when a teacher recommended she take an honors math class that wouldn’t work with her schedule because of her ELL classes. It also prevented her from taking dance classes, which she had loved participating in when she lived in Mexico.

But Dugan and her boss, Horne, are adamant that full English immersion is the best way for ELL students to learn the language quickly, which they say is essential for them to be successful in the United States.

They say that students should graduate from the program within a year, but that is often not the case.

No one at the Department of Education spoke with current ELL students or recent graduates before pushing for a re-institution of the full English immersion model, Dugan told the Mirror. Instead they looked at the “abysmal” rate — 4% to 6% — at which Dugan said students were learning English through dual language models, compared to 9% for all learning models in 2022

But an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Justice Department found that, from 2006 to 2012, thousands of Arizona students were incorrectly promoted from ELL programs, or never identified as English learners in the first place, because of changes in scoring that the Arizona Department of Education made to English proficiency tests.

And Horne is looking to make those tests easier again, saying that they were made too difficult in response to the investigation.

On Sept. 7, Horne filed a lawsuit asking a Maricopa County Superior Court judge to settle a disagreement between his office and Gov. Katie Hobbs and Attorney General Kris Mayes, both Democrats, over the interpretation of the state law governing English language learning in K-12 schools.

Horne argues that a 50-50 dual-language immersion learning model, used in as many as 26 school districts across the state, violates the law that he and Dugan championed and that passed through a voter referendum more than 20 years ago. The law requires ELL students to be taught English in English-only classrooms.

Hobbs and Mayes say a law passed in 2019 by Arizona legislators, which ordered the State Board of Education to develop alternative, research-based teaching methods to the full English immersion curriculum, is protected by the authority of the board.

Many Arizona districts now use one of those four alternative models, including dual-language immersion, in which students are taught half the day in English and the other half in another language, usually their native language.

“For some reason, people think they know what’s best for Hispanic children and how to learn English,” Dugan told the Mirror. “I’m just so tired of people trying to tell Hispanics how they best can learn. And to me, that, really, is very insulting.”

I’ve never heard of anybody having mental anguish. I think this is ideological.

– Margaret Garcia Dugan, Arizona Department of Edcuation

Georgina Monsalvo, organizing director at Stand for Children, an education equity group that campaigned for the 2019 changes in English language learning models, learned through the English immersion model herself, as did her son.

Although Monsalvo and her son were both born in the U.S., they each grew up speaking primarily Spanish at home.

When Monsalvo’s son, 13-year-old Jorge, was learning through the full-English immersion model, he wondered why he was segregated from his peers and he fell behind in science and math, Monsalvo told the Mirror.

After the law change in 2019, Jorge is now pulled out of regular classes for only an hour each day to learn English, and has additional help in core classes, through an individualized education program.

“I could see his attitude changing,” Monsalvo said.

She could tell he was feeling more integrated in his classes, and even though he is still not proficient in English, his grades have improved.

“The difference has been night and day,” she said.

Monsalvo added that she saw the impact that the ELI model had on her own classmates, who were often treated like they were special education students, she said.

“Most of my friends that were with me didn’t even go on to college,” she said. “They felt like it was a waste of time.”

Monsalvo said she often wonders how their academic outcomes might have been different if there were more inclusive learning models back then. Monsalvo graduated from Douglas High School in 2010.

“It makes me really sad,” Monsalvo said of her friends in ELI classes. “They always thought they were worth less.”

Dugan told the Mirror that she believes the backers of dual-language learning models don’t actually want Latinos to learn English, and added that those models also segregate students from native English speakers. But Montoya countered that most immigrants, and especially children, are hungry to learn English. She just believes there is a better way.

Montoya is not an advocate of dual-language programs, but believes in a more inclusive model that fuses dual language learning with integration of English learners into mainstream classrooms, with added support.

As a former classroom teacher, Montoya said she sees a huge disconnect between what elected officials think instruction and acquisition of a new language should look like versus what is good practice, not only from an academic acquisition perspective, but also for the social and emotional development of the students.

“These policies are not really rooted in research and best practices, and, more importantly, human decency,” she said.

Dugan told the Mirror that none of her students ever fell behind in other subjects because of their four hours outside of regular classes each day, when using the ELI model.

She said she believes that lack of motivation and skipping school was the only reason that any of those students fell behind, and adamantly denied that either of those things might be due to mental health issues caused by the immersion programs.

“The kids that come to school on a regular basis do well,” she said, adding that, when students do well in school, it helps their self esteem.

“Our Hispanic kids are very smart and they can learn English, that’s all. And there’s so much proof of that,” Dugan said. “I want people to understand they don’t need to give us, I guess, a low standard and a low expectation.”

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Maricopa County GOP wants to force cash-strapped AZGOP to fund $15 million 'hand-count' presidential primary

The Maricopa County Republican Committee voted on Saturday to send a resolution to the state party asking it to back out of the state-funded primary election by a Sept. 1 deadline. Instead of an election run by county elections officials — and featuring standard election protocols like early voting and counting ballots with machines — the county GOP wants a Republican Party-funded primary held all on one day, at the precinct level, and with all ballots counted by hand.

In a video posted on Rumble Tuesday, MCRC Chairman Craig Berland scoffed at claims that the “cost is insurmountable and the execution impossible” for a one-day hand-counted primary election. Berland, who attended election denial celebrity Mike Lindell’s symposium earlier this month, added that he believes those are the kinds of claims that come from the people who “stole” the 2020 and 2022 elections in Arizona and who are prosecuting former President Donald Trump.

Although Trump and other Republicans, including failed GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, have made sweeping allegations of fraud in elections, they have yet to produce any evidence. Many lawsuits claiming fraud changed the outcomes of close races, including Lake’s, have been rejected because they lack proof.

One of the most notable people claiming a party-run primary would be cost prohibitive is AZGOP Chairman Jeff DeWit, who previously served as chief financial officer for Trump’s 2016 campaign and chief operations officer for his 2020 campaign.

In a response to the MCRC’s video, DeWit posted his own video Tuesday evening, accusing county party leaders of not being team players and of failing to take enough time to properly plan or work with the state party on a change of the magnitude it is proposing.

The county’s plan would force the state Republican Party to spend millions of dollars on the primary election instead of using that money to campaign for and win races in the general election.

“It would be much appreciated if they could tell us where we’re going to get the $13 (million) to $15 million that the secretary of state estimates we will need to do what they’re asking us to do, and why we want to spend that money on something other than winning elections,” DeWit said in the video.

Paul Smith-Leonard, communications director for Democratic Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, told the Arizona Mirror that the office had not provided any estimates on the potential cost of a Republican Party-run, hand-counted primary.

It’s unclear how DeWit arrived at those numbers and AZGOP and the MCRC did not immediately respond to requests for comment and clarification.

What is known is that the Arizona Republican Party has struggled to raise money for basic party operations this year, DeWit’s first as chairman.

As of its last monthly filing, the AZGOP had a paltry $28,325 in its federal campaign account, which is an important source of funding for operations during presidential election years. In total, the state party had raised only $188,882 so far this year, compared to the Arizona Democratic Party’s $1.2 million.

That means the AZGOP barely has enough money to cover its operating expenses at the moment, let alone organize and fund an expensive election fewer than seven months from now.

Even so, Berland challenged DeWit to stand up for election integrity by pulling out of the state presidential primary to host the party’s own hand-counted election.

Berland said that he believes the 2022 election for governor was stolen from Kari Lake and that Republican politicians make plenty of promises about election integrity but “when the opportunity arises to truly stand, all they do is stand in the way.”

While prominent election deniers in the Arizona legislature, and some of their constituents have advocated for one-day in person elections at the precinct level, with only hand counts in an effort to stamp out election fraud that they believe is happening, Fontes has repeatedly pointed out that hand counts are highly inaccurate, as compared to the tabulators that Arizona currently uses.

The Maricopa County Republican Committee’s executive board includes election deniers, like Shelby Busch, of the conservative group We the People AZ Alliance, who testified on behalf of Kari Lake during her failed court challenge to the results of the 2022 race for Arizona governor. Another executive committee member is former state Rep. Liz Harris, who was ousted from the legislature for bringing a conspiracy theorist before a hearing of the Joint Elections Committee, who accused scores of lawmakers of being involved in a drug-cartel housing deed money laundering scheme.

Harris was a member of the House Municipal Oversight and Elections Committee, which, along with the Senate Elections Committee, recommended bills to the full legislature this year that would have made it illegal to use any kind of technology to vote, force hand counts of all ballots, severely restrict voting by mail and early voting, and dump everyone from the voters rolls once per decade, among many other changes to the state’s election system.

Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs vetoed the majority of the bills that came out of those committees, including one that would allow counties to conduct hand counts in place of machine counts.

The Mohave County Board of Supervisors, which had previously planned to hand count all ballots in the 2024 election, decided against it in early August after learning that the count would cost more than $1 million, a cost that Chairman Travis Lingenfelter said the county couldn’t afford.

A large part of that cost, according to Mohave County Elections Director Allen Tempert, would be to hire 245 workers. He also expressed concern at the number of errors workers made during a test hand count of 850 ballots in June.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Kari Lake says it doesn’t matter if she lied about elected official

Failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake says that it doesn’t matter whether the statements she made about Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer are false and his defamation lawsuit against her should be tossed out of court because of a state law curtailing public officials from suing their critics.

In a motion filed on Monday, Lake asked Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jay Adleman to dismiss Richer’s suit because she says it violates Arizona’s Strategic Action Against Public Participation law, commonly referred to as an anti-SLAPP statute.

“An Anti-SLAPP motion is not an attempt to adjudicate falsity, but to avoid the burden of having to justify statements concerning core political speech,” Lake said in the filing.

Lake and her lawyers said in the filing that Richer’s suit should be dismissed because he is a “state actor” who brought the suit to “deter, retaliate against, and prevent Defendants’ lawful exercise of their free speech rights on the core public issue of election integrity.”

While Richer filed the suit as a private citizen, Lake and her lawyers argued that, because the content of the suit revolves around his work as Maricopa County recorder, he should still be considered a “state actor.”

But Craig Morgan, a Phoenix lawyer who represented Secretary of State Adrian Fontes in Lake’s suit challenging the election, says he believes that Lake’s motion stretches the intended purpose of the anti-SLAPP statute.

“I think it’s a stretch to say that a public officer standing up for his or her reputation is doing so to stop someone from engaging in political speech,” he said.

Morgan said he believes that Richer’s lawsuit will survive the motion to dismiss.

“You could arguably read this as a desperate maneuver,” Morgan said. “I don’t agree that this is the kind of situation that anti-SLAPP laws are meant to deter or remedy, I just don’t.”

Lake is represented in the filing by Tim La Sota, who has previously represented Lake; former Assistant Arizona Attorney General Jennifer Wright; and the Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law First Amendment Clinic.

Gregg Leslie, the executive director of the First Amendment Clinic, told the Arizona Mirror that the clinic is only representing Lake in her motion to dismiss, not in any other part of this case or in any of her other suits attempting to overturn the 2022 election.

I think it’s a stretch to say that a public officer standing up for his or her reputation is doing so to stop someone from engaging in political speech. You could arguably read this as a desperate maneuver.

– Phoenix attorney Craig Morgan

Leslie, along with another staff attorney and ASU law students in the clinic, “made the decision to represent her because her case raised an important First Amendment-related issue, specifically whether it should be dismissed under the anti-SLAPP statute because it is an effort from a public official to interfere with her free speech rights,” Leslie wrote in an email to the Mirror. “We’re a First Amendment Clinic, and this is a First Amendment issue.”

Leslie added that Wright and La Sota, who are both election attorneys, didn’t have much experience with free speech issues and anti-SLAPP statutes that attorneys with the First Amendment Clinic had, so the clinic came onboard to help.

Both Lake and Richer are Republicans, but they have spent ample time over the past year trading barbs on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, with Richer bearing the brunt of Lake’s conspiracy theories about election integrity in Maricopa County.

Richer was a favorite target for Lake’s during her campaign for governor, but she amped up the vitriol after she lost the race for governor to Democrat Katie Hobbs by 17,000 votes in November 2022.

In his suit, Richer accuses Lake, along with her campaign and the Save Arizona Fund, a dark money nonprofit that Lake controls and that has raised untold sums of money to fund her legal efforts to overturn the 2022 election, of making false claims that he sabotaged the election to keep Republican candidates like Lake from winning.

The suit specifically focuses on Lake’s claim that Richer “intentionally printed 19-inch images on 20-inch ballots to sabotage the 2022 general election,” resulting in 300,000 “illegal, invalid, phony or bogus” early ballots being counted in Maricopa County. She has made the claims on social media and at public events.

Although Lake has used the claim in her lawsuits aiming to reverse her loss to Gov. Katie Hobbs last year, the Maricopa County Superior Court, the Arizona Court of Appeals and the Arizona Supreme Court have all said there is no evidence supporting the assertion, and the claims were all dismissed. But Leslie wrote in the filing that those dismissals aren’t relevant.

“Even if judges in other actions in this controversy have held that Lake failed to present sufficient evidence of fraud to prevail in a claim…she is still entitled to have an opinion and state her beliefs about what happened in the 2022 election and who is to blame for mistakes,” Leslie wrote.

Because of Lake’s lies, Richer has faced daily hate and threats of violence, in the form of emails, direct messages on Twitter, voicemails and i- person confrontations, Richer’s lawyer Daniel Maynard wrote in the suit.

Richer also claims that he and his wife have spent thousands of dollars to install new security features in their home and that local law enforcement now do regular patrols at their home and Richer and his wife’s workplaces.

Because he’s a public figure, Richer would have to clear a high bar to win the defamation suit against Lake. He must prove that, not only did Lake publicly make false statements about him and knew they were false or acted recklessly in regards to whether they were true or false, but also that she made those claims with actual malice.

Even if judges in other actions in this controversy have held that Lake failed to present sufficient evidence of fraud to prevail in a claim…she is still entitled to have an opinion and state her beliefs about what happened in the 2022 election and who is to blame for mistakes.

– Kari Lake's attorneys in her motion to dismiss

But Lake’s Monday motion to dismiss aims to stop the suit before it even gets to the point of determining whether her statements were truthful. Lake and her lawyers argue that the truth of her statements don’t matter, according to the anti-SLAPP statute.

“Furthermore, ‘falsity’ is almost never a black-and-white issue, and even a court decision finding insufficient evidence to support a fraud claim to challenge election results is not a finding that the statements are objectively false and cannot be the basis of an opinion about the fairness of an election,” they wrote.

If the judge agrees with Lake, then Richer will have to demonstrate that his suit is based on “clearly established law” and that “he did not act in order to deter, prevent or retaliate against the moving party’s exercise of constitutional rights.”

Lake claims in her filing that, by requesting compensatory and punitive damages and attorney fees, as well as asking that all false posts be removed from her social media and websites, Richer is retaliating against Lake for using her right to free speech.

“Richer certainly has the right to publicly dispute Defendants’ speech,” Leslie wrote. “However, (Arizona law) does not allow him to bring this lawsuit in an attempt to punish or silence such speech simply because he disagrees with it. In fact, Richer’s own public statements about this lawsuit shows that his intention is to violate Kari Lake’s right to free speech.”

Lake and her lawyers base that claim on Richer’s June 22 post on X that reads, in part, “So I’m suing Kari Lake to hopefully put an end to the false statements.”

Richer’s lawyers, including Jared Davidson of Protect Democracy, were in the process of reviewing Lake’s filing on Tuesday.

“We look forward to filing our response with the court,” Davidson said.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

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