SACRAMENTO — A federal judge in San Francisco will hold a hearing today that is expected to determine whether local school districts must begin dismantling their bilingual education programs under Proposition 227.
U.S. District Judge Charles Legge, a moderate Reagan appointee, is being asked by civil rights groups to block implementation of the initiative approved by 61 percent of the voters on June 2.
“As of right now, it’s a question of whether an injunction is placed on the initiative,” said Ron Unz, the Silicon Valley businessman who wrote and sponsored the initiative. “If it isn’t, I think the war is over.”
Unz said that because sheltered English immersion programs are required to begin 60 days after passage of the initiative, local districts will begin to dismantle bilingual education programs if the judge does not issue a preliminary injunction.
The lawsuit against Proposition 227 would continue. But its resolution and the appeal process could take months or more likely years, giving immersion time to become the dominant method for instructing the 1.4 million students who speak limited English.
“I’m really quite optimistic,” said Unz. He said a federal court upheld the right of an Orange County school district to switch from bilingual education to sheltered English immersion earlier this year.
Whether Legge issues an injunction also is regarded as crucial by an attorney for the civil rights coalition opposing Proposition 227, but for a different reason.
“If the injunction does not issue, there will be irreparable harm,”
said Joseph Jaramillo, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “There will be successful programs dismantled and an untested and unsound program put in their place, and children will be harmed.”
Proposition 227 requires that students who speak limited English be taught English quickly. In bilingual education, students are taught regular courses in their native language for up to seven years while they gradually learn English.
In immersion programs, students are taught mainly in English, supported by pictures, symbols and some use of their native language. Proposition 227 says most students should be placed in mainstream English classes after about a year in the immersion program.
The initiative allows students to obtain a waiver to receive bilingual education if parents and school officials agree that the student has “special physical, emotional, psychological, or educational needs.” But the student would first have to spend 30 days in an immersion class.
Among other things, the lawsuit filed by the civil rights coalition contends that students placed in an immersion class will be denied equal access to academic curriculum for at least one year, causing them to fall behind students in mainstream classes.
“It will single out only these national-origin minority students,
and will subject them to a system so fundamentally flawed that it will essentially consign them to academic failure,” the lawsuit said.
A brief filed by an attorney for Unz, Peter Simshauser, said that successful sheltered immersion programs are in wide use in Germany, France, Canada and Australia. The brief also cites several academic experts who believe that immersion is the best way to teach students English.
Simshauser argued in the brief that the opponents will have difficulty showing that Proposition 227 is an attempt to discriminate against minorities.
He said the initiative was supported by members of all races and speeds up assimilation into mainstream classrooms.
One of eight students named as plaintiffs in the suit, whose names are sealed by the court, is “Hilda M.,” an elementary student in the San Diego Unified School District. The suit says she benefits from a bilingual education program that would be banned by the initiative and suggests she would be harmed by an immersion program.
Simshauser wrote that “there is no certainty that plaintiffs in fact will be placed in such a program, because they may apply for, and receive,
a waiver that allows them to remain in a bilingual education program.”
But Jaramillo said showing that a student has a “special need”
could be difficult, even if the parents want their child to remain in a bilingual education.
“It’s highly unlikely that large numbers of limited English proficient students will be able to obtain waivers,” said Jaramillo.
Last week, the state Board of Education adopted regulations for implementing Proposition 227 to strengthen the control of parents and give local school districts flexibility in shaping their programs.
Bill Lucia, the board executive director, said the regulations are intended to ensure that local school districts follow the guidelines and tell parents about the waivers “rather than just willy-nilly decide they are going to deny waivers.”
At a meeting next Tuesday, the board is scheduled to consider the Proposition 227 requirement that schools offer bilingual education if 20 or more students receive waivers. Some schools in Orange County that scrapped bilingual education may have to offer the program again if students receive waivers.
The Board of Education also modified its policy on instructional materials to allow the use of $340 million over two years to aid the Proposition 227 transition with textbooks and other resources.
Lucia said the money also can be used for tutorials or after-school programs for students who need more help learning English after a year of immersion.
Proposition 227 authorizes $50 million a year for 10 years for individuals pledging to personally tutor children in English.
Local districts will decide whether the tutoring money is spent through adult-education programs, community colleges, or community-based organizations.
At a meeting on July 31, the board is scheduled to review research and listen to testimony that will help it develop guidelines for creating an immersion program.
Many school districts already have experience with various types of immersion programs. Only about 30 percent of the 1.4 million students with limited English have been receiving bilingual education in their native language.
About 40 percent are taught in English with various methods designed for students who do not speak English, such as English as a second language and sheltered immersion. And 30 percent do not receive any special help,
according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office.