Bilingual ed ban upheld

Public schools: Immersion is a 'valid educational theory,' federal judge says.

A federal judge in San Francisco decided Wednesday to uphold Proposition 227, the initiative that bans public schools from teaching their students in a language other than English.

“I believe the public interest in this case is reflected by the voters’ overwhelming approval of Proposition 227,” said U.S. District Judge Charles Legge.

About 61 percent of voters approved the proposition. Soon after the election,
however, several groups, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, filed a suit against the state.

The suit stated that the initiative was unconstitutional because it discriminated against non-English speaking minorities and went against the Equal Educational Opportunities Act and demanded the federal court pass an injunction that would block it.

Legge, however, said Proposition 227 neither discriminated against minorities nor violated the 1974 federal law. Immersion, he said, was a “valid educational theory.”

“We’re disappointed that the judge did not see the danger of his decision,” said Thomas Saenz, an attorney in the suit and MALDEF’s regional counsel in Los Angeles. “We will continue to fight for limited English students.”

Saenz said MALDEF will announce today whether it will appeal the judge’s decision.

The idea of scrapping bilingual education was proposed last spring by the Orange Unified School District in Orange County, which felt its limited English students were not learning the language fast enough. The idea was picked up by millionaire Ron Unz, who drafted an initiative and got it on the 1998 state ballot, where it won by a landslide.

The initiative is to be implemented as soon as the new school year starts,
meaning that all students who do not speak English immediately will be placed in a classroom where all their lessons will be in that language. However,
if an appeal is filed, the initiative will be held up until the appellate court can make a decision.

School districts in Los Angeles County, however, already are preparing for 227, said Eliya Obillo, director of special projects and services at ABC Unified.

“It will be a lot of work,” Obillo said. “It’s a humongous task to implement in such a short time.”

A task force, made up of officials from many Los Angeles County districts,
is going to meet today to discuss strategies, Obillo said.

ABC Unified includes schools from Lakewood, Cerritos and Artesia, and 25 percent of its students qualify as having limited English proficiency.

The biggest difficulty for ABC, Obillo said, is not getting teachers to teach English, but making sure they are using techniques that will uphold the law. In order to come up with those techniques, ABC needs the State Department of Education to tell teachers what they can and cannot do.

A lack of state guidance is exactly why Long Beach Unified hasn’t hammered out its strategy, said public information director Dick Van Der Laan.

“We’re keeping abreast of the situation,” Van Der Laan said.
“The logical next step is to meet with the staff, and a lot are on vacation.”

Van Der Laan said his district will be ready in time. He said Superintendent Carl Cohn, who currently is abroad, is determined to offer the best English immersion instruction in the country.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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