SACRAMENTO — As businessman Ron Unz savored the big victory of his initiative to end bilingual education, opponents attacked on several fronts yesterday with a lawsuit, waiver requests and a search for conflicts with federal regulations.
State schools chief Delaine Eastin, an opponent of Proposition 227, urged local school districts to make no changes in their programs for the 1.4 million students who speak limited English until guidelines are established in a few weeks.
One sign of the deep opposition to the initiative among many educators is that eight school districts, prior to the election, submitted requests to Eastin’s office for waivers allowing them to continue bilingual education if the initiative passed.
The waiver requests presumably would be rejected by the state Board of Education, whose 11 members were appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson, a supporter of Proposition 227. But waivers are one of several avenues being explored by initiative opponents.
Meanwhile, the group that represents the teachers of bilingual education issued a feisty statement pledging a drive to tell parents to keep their children in bilingual programs until the courts rule on the initiative.
“The battle is not over,” said Silvina Rubinstein, executive director of the California Association for Bilingual Education.
Unz dismissed the lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco by a coalition of civil rights groups, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, as a standard tactic by the losers of an initiative battle.
“We do not expect an effective legal challenge to our initiative,”
said Unz. “We also expect that school districts will begin implementing the new program this fall.”
Unz has received assurances that the office of Attorney General Dan Lungren,
who opposed the initiative, will defend the measure in court. A large Los Angeles law firm also is expected to defend the initiative.
Proposition 227 was approved Tuesday by 61 percent of the voters. Unz said he thinks the margin of victory is the greatest for any contested initiative since the Proposition 13 property-tax cut received 65 percent of the vote 20 years ago.
Unz said the opponents of Proposition 227 spent about $5 million, while his campaign spent just $250,000. He also estimated that the Univision Spanish-language television network, whose principal shareholder gave the opposition campaign
$1.5 million, provided more than a million dollars worth of free time for editorials against the initiative.
Unz, who in 1994 lost in the Republican gubernatorial primary to Wilson,
is the first of three young Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who have pushed initiatives to get a measure approved by voters. Tom Proulx backed liability law initiatives rejected by voters in 1996. Reed Hastings dropped a charter school initiative this year after negotiating an expansion of the program with legislators.
Under bilingual education, students who speak limited English are taught in their native language for up to seven years while they gradually learn English. Proposition 227 requires the students, unless they receive waivers,
to take a quick course in English normally lasting a year.
The lawsuit against Proposition 227 to be heard by U.S. District Judge Charles Legge in San Francisco argues that the measure violates federal law by singling out a particular group of children and reducing their educational opportunities.
“The concern is that these programs, which are particularly for the Latino and to a certain extent Asian populations, are being uniquely singled out for special treatment,” said Peter Roos, an attorney and co-director of Multicultural Education Training and Advocacy in San Francisco.
The lawsuit also argues that the initiative violates federal law by allowing students to fall behind in other subjects while learning English. Furthermore,
the suit charges that parents who want an alternative to Proposition 227 for their children face the unreasonable burden of needing another initiative to change the law.
Sherry Annis, spokeswoman for the Yes on Proposition 227 campaign, said lawyers for the initiative will respond to the legal arguments of the opponents as the lawsuit proceeds. “I’m not going to respond to any specifics,”
The initiative allows parents to request waivers allowing their children to receive bilingual education in some cases, including if the child is 10 years or older or has “special physical, emotional, psychological or educational needs.”
Eastin has directed a team at the state Department of Education to develop a plan for implementing Proposition 227 and to study “ambiguous provisions”
in the initiative — the parental waivers, the initiative’s relationship to federal law, and how much native language can be used in classrooms.
Guidelines for issuing the parental waivers will be developed by local school districts, subject to review by the state Board of Education. The state board is scheduled to hold a closed-door meeting tomorrow on potential lawsuits arising from Proposition 227, followed by a public hearing on the initiative on June 12.
Before the election, eight school districts asked to be allowed to continue providing bilingual education if the initiative passed. The districts want the state Board of Education to use its broad power over the state education code to waive the new provisions inserted into the law by Proposition 227.
Judy Pinegar, a state Department of Education consultant, said the requests were submitted by the San Jose, Berkeley, Capistrano, Hayward, Fresno, Oakland,
Saddleback Valley (Orange County) and the San Mateo-Foster City districts.
“They are getting in line,” said Pinegar. “They want to be there first if the board will do something like that.”
Bill Lucia, state Board of Education executive director, said he does not think the board could approve the waivers, even if it wanted to. He said the initiative says that changes require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature and the signature of the governor.
Both Eastin’s office and the California School Boards Association are exploring whether the initiative conflicts with federal law. For example,
a landmark 1974 U.S. Supreme Court decision requires schools to make a special effort to educate children who do not speak English.
One of the questions being asked is whether a special effort may still be required after a child completes the one-year crash course in English prescribed by the initiative.
Fred Tempes, director of the state Department of Education accountability office, said the initiative’s directive that students be taught “overwhelmingly in English” is vague.