OAKLAND — “We Latinos, blacks and Asians are hungry for education. We are hungry to learn about our own history and our own culture. By law, we are required to attend school, but we are fed junk. We demand more than that,” said Dwayne Johnson, an Oakland Technical High School senior in the student demonstration against the Oakland Unified School District earlier this month.
The students protested the district’s failure to provide adequate and quality bilingual education, “equal education” for its 13,707 bilingual students. Organized by United Raza Association, a group of Latino and Asian youths, the districtwide protest entailed walk-outs during second period and peaceful protesting.
Twenty-six percent of the Oakland Unified School District’s student population is in need of bilingual education. These native languages include: Spanish, Cantonese, Cambodian, Laotian, Vietnamese, Mien and Tagalog.
The frustrations of the students reflect a long-standing dissatisfaction with the Oakland Unified School District’s attitude towards bilingual education. In 1984, a group of citizens led by Mario Zambrano sued the district for its breach of state and federal law to provide limited English proficient students with equal access to the required academic core curriculum.
A Revised Settlement Agreement, requiring the district to implement a quality bilingual education program, was signed by both parties in May 1991.
The district was recently found to fail in meeting 31 of 36 areas in the terms of the Agreement. Zambrano plaintiffs are seeking to enforce the district’s legal obligation in a hearing scheduled for May 3 before the arbitrator appointed under the Agreement.
“This is not a political problem, but an institutional one. It’s deeply rooted and historic. The district is unresponsive to the needs of the bilingual, and students are not learning. To be taught in a language other than one’s native tongue is not to learn,” said Margaretta Wan Ling Lin, legal counsel for the Zambrano suit.
Two major instances of the district’s non-compliance with the Agreement, according to Lin, are the lack of an academic core curriculum in students’ native languages, and the hiring of only 22 certificated bilingual teachers in 1992, when they were required to hire 92.
“That’s 22 fully certificated teachers that they’re counting,” says Josephine Lee, a principal on special assignment with the Human Resources Division of the District. “We’re constantly trying to hire bilingual teachers and we’ve been forced to hire people even as they’re students. So we have people in the process of getting certification.”
“If they’re going to say it’s a budget problem, we say why does it pay for other things it finds important? If they say there is a lack of bilingual teachers, we say why doesn’t San Francisco or San Jose have this problem?” said Lin.
According to Lin, the ratios of bilingual secondary school teachers to students are: 1:21 in San Jose, 1:33 in San Francisco, and 1:350 in Oakland.
“The district has until September 1994 to fill these terms, and they are very aware of that date,” said Sherri Willis, Oakland Unified School District’s public information officer.
“All the West is desperate for bilingual teachers. We have a stipend for these teachers, and maybe other districts have higher ones, which is why they can get the teachers. It seems to me that we have been committed to filling this.”
With the increasing multiculturalism of the schools, faculty and students alike have had to expand attitudes about education.
“Teachers and administration are much more aware of the need to access materials and concepts to students who have a different native language. Not many major publishers have translations and if they do not perceive a need, they don’t produce,” said Margaret Hauben with the district’s curriculum office.
Attorneys hope the hearing scheduled for May 3 before the appointed arbitrator under the Agreement will satisfy both parties and the needs of the concerned student group, which has increased from 12 percent to 26 percent of the district student body.