Arizona has been under fire for a controversial anti-illegal immigrant law and now its Department of Education is embarking on a course of action that many critics also believe is being enforced in a discriminatory fashion.
"The Arizona Department of Education recently began telling school districts that teachers whose spoken English it deems to be heavily accented or ungrammatical must be removed from classes for students still learning English," The Wall Street Journal reported.
"This is just one more indication of the incredible anti-immigrant sentiment in the state," said Bruce Merrill, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University who conducts public-opinion research.
Nearly half the teachers at Creighton, a K-8 school in a Hispanic neighborhood of Phoenix, are native Spanish speakers. State auditors have reported to the district that some teachers pronounce words such as violet as "biolet," think as "tink" and swallow the ending sounds of words, as they sometimes do in Spanish.
These teachers "are very good educators who understand the culture" of their students," said Ms. Agneessens, Creighton's principal. "Teachers should speak grammatically correct English," she acknowledged, but added, "I object to the nuance of punishment for accent."
"It doesn't matter to me what the accent is; what matters is if my children are learning," said Luis Tavarez, the parent of sixth- and eighth-graders at Creighton.
Christina Parsons was born in Brazile and has taught the English Language Learners class in Tucson for more than 20 years, but she told CNN that she has been subjected to an audit based on her ability to pronounce English words.
"They just walked in in the middle of class," she told CNN's Thelma Gutierrez.
State School Superintendent Tom Horne denies the crackdown is based on teachers' accents. "We are not going after any accents including Spanish accents. It has to be faulty English. If students are being taught English and they're going to refer to a comma as a 'coma' people are going to misunderstand them," said Horne.
But studies have shown that non-native teachers actually make better educators, according to University of Arizona professor Roseann Gonzales. She says that the ability to pronounce the language is not the most important aspect to learning.
"Language is very contextual. We depend on the context to understand what words mean," Gonzales told CNN.
Parsons is still waiting on the results of her audit. "The Arizona Department of Educations gives us a certificate saying, 'Yes, you are certified to teach.' After that they say, 'No, I don't think you can do it so I'm going to go into the classroom and see if you are doing a good job.'"
CNN anchor Kyra Phillips disagrees with the new policy. "Would a guy like the Governor of California be allowed to teach kids how to learn English? Arnold's Austrian accent is as thick as his biceps but his English seems to be just fine," remarked Phillips.
"I was also going to give a graduation speech in Arizona this weekend. But with my accent, I was afraid they would try to deport me," CBS News reported the Republican governor joked in his speech at Emory University.
"Their accents reflect who they are and where they came from. What's more important? What teachers say or how they say it?" Phillips wondered.
This video is from CNN's Newsroom, broadcast May 24, 2010.