Board alters bilingual education rules

But suit still threatened over the state's position

SACRAMENTO – A state board yesterday changed part of its proposed bilingual education regulations, but still drew a threat of a lawsuit from the author of an initiative aimed at teaching most immigrant children in English rather than their native language.

The state Board of Education removed a provision that Ron Unz, the author of Proposition 227, said would allow school staff, rather than parents, to seek waivers needed under the initiative to enroll children in bilingual education.

“I am very glad that the board now admits that their position last month was completely illegal and they have backtracked on that,” Unz said.

But the board, whose attorney said the initiative is ambiguous, retained a requirement that children be taught in English only for the first 30 days of their beginning year, not for the first 30 days of each following year, even if they are placed in bilingual education.

Unz said he may go to court to overturn the board’s position. “It’s highly likely,” he said.

A lobbyist for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund declined to say whether his group would file a lawsuit if the board complied with Unz’s request.

“It is a major issue for us,” said Francisco Estrada of MALDEF.

Unz said the annual 30-day English requirement helps parents decide each year whether the student is ready for English immersion. But opponents said the annual requirement for students remaining in bilingual education is harassment or even harmful.

The board adopted the revamped regulations on a unanimous vote and put them out for public comment. If the proposed regulations are not changed again, the board is scheduled to take a final vote on April 24.

Unz contends that the board appointed by Gov. Gray Davis is being pressured by Latino legislators and activist groups to undermine the initiative approved by voters four years ago.

Critics said that bilingual education students were being kept in the expensive programs for years and falling behind other students. But advocates said bilingual education is needed to help many students who struggle with English.

About 12 percent of the 1.5 million English language learners in the public school system are in bilingual education, where most instruction is in the native language before transitioning to English after the third or fifth grade.

Unz said that allowing school staff to initiate bilingual education waivers would undermine parental choice. But advocates of bilingual education said many school districts are not giving parents a choice.

Ismael Avilez of the Coalition United for the Education of Our Children told the board the Oceanside Unified School District has denied waivers to parents who want to place their children in bilingual education.

Oceanside received national publicity after Superintendent Ken Noonan, who helped create the California Association of Bilingual Educators 30 years ago, reported that English immersion required by Proposition 227 was producing good results.



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