SACRAMENTO — Drawing a threat of a lawsuit from bilingual educators,
the state Board of Education adopted a new policy yesterday that encourages local school districts to choose their own method for teaching students with limited English.
But board President Yvonne Larsen of San Diego noted that the policy,
which is advisory and not binding on local districts, will be eliminated if voters approve Proposition 227 on the June 2 ballot.
The initiative sponsored by businessman Ron Unz would end most of the bilingual education programs that teach children in their native language for up to seven years, replacing them with a sheltered immersion course in English lasting about a year.
The board adopted the new flexible policy after voting last month to repeal a mandate requiring bilingual education, citing a ruling by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Ron Robie in February that the state bilingual education law expired in 1987.
Maria Quezada of the California Association for Bilingual Education told the board that the new policy that does not require bilingual education
“invites serious legal consequences,” an apparent warning of a lawsuit.
“We believe this position is flatly contrary to the decision issued by Judge Robie,” said Quezada. She said Robie ruled that the “general purposes” of the expired law remain and that bilingual education must be provided when necessary.
About 1.4 million California students speak limited English. But only about a third are in bilingual education programs, mainly because of shortage of bilingual teachers.
Advocates of bilingual education say that teaching English learners in their native language allows them to keep up with their course work, while studying English for part of the day.
But advocates of sheltered immersion say that young students do not fall far behind while learning English quickly and have a much better command of English when they leave elementary school.
The dispute took the form of academic jargon yesterday when Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin questioned a provision in the new policy that says the learning of English and academic achievement can be addressed
“sequentially,” rather than “simultaneously.”
Eastin contended that the remaining general purposes section of the expired law says that the learning of English and academic achievement should be simultaneous, which occurs in bilingual education.
“I would argue that you really cannot let these kids fall behind if you read the act,” said Eastin. “We really feel strongly that you should not leave the impression that somehow English fluency can occur sequentially with academic achievement.”
Rae Belisle, the board’s attorney, said that a sequential approach (such as English immersion) is permissible for a reasonable period of time under the federal standards for teaching children with limited English that emerged from a 1981 court decision.
The five-point policy for English learners adopted yesterday emphasizes that programs must be based on sound educational theory, maximizes local flexibility, calls for adequate resources, recognizes parent involvement,
and says local districts should be able to appeal when sanctioned by the state.
Most of the new policy will have no force until it is run through a regulatory procedure with public hearings. But the board will not take that step until after voters decide the fate of Proposition 227.
The 11-member board appointed by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson and Eastin,
a Democrat running for re-election this year, have clashed on a number of issues.
In a closed-door meeting yesterday, the board approved $10,000 yesterday for a lawsuit to determine whether the board or Eastin’s office should represent the state Department of Education in lawsuits.