Orange school candidates air bilingualism

EDUCATION: All 11 hopefuls at a forum take a stand on the issue, and two oppose the district's decision to go English-only.

ORANGE, CA—Orange Unified school board President Martin Jacobson put the challenge to his fellow candidates at the outset. Take a clear stand, he said, on the “central issue” of the race for four seats on the seven-member board: bilingual education.

And they did, one by one. It was a sometimes spirited debate
Tuesday night at El Modena High School as about 125 people watched the 11 candidates make their pitches in the first of a series of public forums.

“Bilingual education has been a colossal failure and a great disservice to our foreign-language students,” said Jacobson, who has helped shepherd the board’s widely publicized move to dismantle bilingual instruction in the district in favor of an English-only approach.

He found lots of agreement, but also some notable disagreement from two candidates: William “Bill” G. Vasquez and Bea Gonzalez.

“All our children need to speak English,” said Vasquez, who is running for the seat being vacated by board Vice President Max
Reissmueller. “English proficiency is critical. But while total
(English) immersion works for some students, some other students need help. “

Gonzalez, who is challenging incumbent Rick Ledesma, said she also recognized the need for children to learn English as quickly as possible. But the English-immersion method “takes away the parent’s right to choose what is best for their children. Parents know what is best. ” With one exception, all the other candidates said they supported the board’s move toward English-only instruction. J. Carolan Smyth said he wanted to wait until a comprehensive evaluation of the English-immersion program could be conducted.

Yet even where there was agreement, there was disagreement.

Gisela Meier, who is challenging Jacobson for his seat, said that while she believed English immersion will work, she chastised the board for its handling of the change, which has led to a costly lawsuit filed by a group of Orange parents and Hispanic activists.

Meier noted that the board recently authorized the expenditure of $ 100,000 to defend itself against the suit, a cost that could “have beenavoided if parents had been involved from the beginning. ” She argued that the board’s decision not to hold public hearings on the bilingual issue led to alienation among Hispanic parents.

It was the type of debate that many in the standing-room-only audience had come to hear.

“My impression is that most of the candidates are either to the right or to the left,” said Nancy Hoenshell of Orange, a mother of
two schoolchildren. “I’m looking for moderate candidates. I
want to hear what the candidates are saying now compared to what they may be saying when the election gets closer. Sometimes that changes. “

Other topics at the forum included the separation of church and state, fiscal planning, the role of psychological counselors on campus and school vouchers.

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