English-only schooling to be on Orange ballot

EDUCATION: District trustees aim to gauge support for the plan with a proposition in the Nov. 4 election.

ORANGE, CA—The Orange Unified School District board suspects that the majority of voters support its decision to drop bilingual programs in favor of English-only instruction.

Soon the board will know for sure.

Trustees voted 6-1 Tuesday at a special meeting to place a nonbinding proposition on the Nov. 4 ballot, when four seats on the seven-member board also will be at stake.

“We need to understand precisely what the breadth and depth of the support is,” board member Robert Viviano said. “I’ve talked to people, and I believe the support is overwhelmingly there. But we need to remove the uncertainty. “

The lone dissenting vote came from board member Max Reissmueller, who supported the concept but argued for the proposition to appear in a different form.

The decision to place the proposition on the ballot comes after the school board was accused of ignoring public opinion in its drive toward English-only teaching. One opposing group recently presented a petition signed by about 800 parents, and other protests have been made.

Board member Bill Lewis said the vote would be “instructive,” particularly from areas of the district where the change from bilingual to English-only instruction will affect the most people.

But opponents of the measure argued that the results will be meaningless because so many parents of Spanish-speaking students do not vote.

“Like it or not, the law requires that all children in the district be educated, whether their parents vote or not,” said Deborah Gillen, a teacher who attended the board meeting.

About one-fourth of the district’s 28,000 studentsspeak limited English and some 1,400 receive some of their instruction in Spanish. In May, the school board voted to eliminate bilingual education in favor of English-only instruction; last month, the State Board of Education failed to act on the district’s request for a one-year waiver, which in effect approved the waiver.

The district’s transition to English-only officially began Friday, although school officials have said the process will take months.

Parent and Hispanic-advocacy groups have filed suit to challenge Orange Unified’s English-only plan. The U.S. Department of Education is investigating Orange Unified for possible civil-rights violations.

A judge in Sacramento is expected to rule this week or next on a request for a temporary restraining order to block the new policy.

The suit contends Orange failed to meet state and federal requirements for its bilingual program, and therefore is ineligible to switch to English-only instruction.

Contributing to the debate is the drive to put a statewide initiative on the 1998 ballot that would require English-only instruction throughout the state. The campaign for the initiative is being underwritten by Ron Unz, the Palo Alto software millionaire and former gubernatorial candidate, and spearheaded by teacher and former Tustin Unified School Board member Gloria Matta Tuchman.

About 1.3 million California students are classified as “not proficient in English. “

The Orange plan would require teachers from kindergarten through third grade to use only English, with assistance from bilingual teaching aides.

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