English-only program can start---for now

SCHOOLS: A judge says he will decide next week whether to block the Orange district from dropping bilingual education.

A Sacramento County judge Wednesday refused to block implementation of Orange Unified School District’s English immersion program before it officially begins Friday.

Superior Court Judge Ronald Robie said he would decide next week, probably by Thursday, whether to issue a temporary restraining order blocking the 30,000-student district from dropping bilingual education in favor of English-only instruction in the primary grades.

That order, if Robie grants it, would be in effect until a full trial is held on the legality of the district’s program.

The new program is being challenged by parents and Hispanic-rights groups on several grounds. They contend the state Board of Education erred in allowing Orange Unified to go forward, and that the program violates state and federal law because it fails to ensure equal access to education for students who do not speak English.

Lawyers for the district argued Wednesday that the program met all requirements of state and federal law.

They also said the districtalready is implementing the program and has lost 20 certified bilingual teachers with teachers not certified to instruct in more than one language.

“The district can’t unring the bell,” said William Quinn, a San Francisco attorney retained by the district. “It can’t go back. “

Both sides seemed pleased Wednesday that Robie decided to take more time rather make an immediate ruling. Robert French, Orange superintendent, said he was relieved that a temporary restraining order wasn’t issued. “It would be nice to know one way or the other, but this process takes awhile,” he said.

Amin David, president of Los Amigos of Orange County, one of the plaintiffs, said the judge’s decision was a “blessing” and that he considered it “fair and reasonable” that Robie would want more information. “We would have loved to have had a restraining order today, but we are confident the judge will do the best he can. “

During the hour-long hearing, Robie peppered attorneys for both sides with questions but did not give any indication how he might rule. He did say he was bothered by a state law that allows the Board of Education to grant waivers to the education code by doing nothing. He said that process, which was used in Orange Unified’s case, makes it difficult for a court to decide whether the board acted properly.

“I’m very troubled by that statute,” he said.

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