Speaking up for bilingual ed

Grass-roots groups start campaign to defeat "English for Children' initiative

Local grass-roots groups fighting an initiative that virtually would abolish bilingual education don’t have nearly as much money as their opponents,
but they hope to make up for it with manpower and the force of their reason.

At a news conference Tuesday kicking off their campaign to defeat the
“English for the Children” initiative, representatives from San Francisco Asian, Latino and youth advocacy groups denounced the effort to dismantle bilingual education.

“As time goes on, people will realize what a farce this initiative is,” said Renee Saucedo, executive director of the Northern California Coalition for Immigrant Rights.

Silicon Valley multimillionaire Ron Unz, sponsor of the initiative, spent
$300,000, including $250,000 of his own money, to qualify the measure for the June ballot. He has spent an additional $150,000 of his own money in the past month on the campaign.

The measure requires students with limited English proficiency to be placed in an English-immersion class for one year, then moved to mainstream classes.

A waiver system does allow exceptions, though. If at least 20 students in a grade request a waiver, to be filed by the parent, they can enroll in a bilingual class. If fewer than 20 request a waiver, they will be referred to the nearest school with a bilingual program.

As an enforcement mechanism, the initiative provides for parents to sue teachers or administrators who “willfully and repeatedly refuse to implement the law.”

Opponents say that clause is tantamount to the criminalization of teachers and is an invitation to litigious parents to sue whenever teachers speak in a foreign language.

“This initiative will mean more work for lawyers,” said Angelo Archeta, executive director of the Asian Law Caucus.

Sheri Annis, spokeswoman for the English for the Children campaign, said accusations that teachers would be sued simply for uttering a few foreign phrases were absurd.

“English immersion means you can use the child’s foreign language,”
she said, speaking from campaign headquarters in Los Angeles.

Saucedo also attacked the waiver provisions, saying they would cause a “bureaucratic nightmare” for school systems.

Opponents said passage would mean parents and school districts would lose control over how bilingual programs were implemented.

They plan to hold a rally at Unz’s Palo Alto office next Tuesday.

The statewide “No on Unz” campaign, based in Santa Monica,
has the support of the California Teachers Association and California School Boards Association, said campaign spokeswoman Kelly Hayes-Raitt.

Annis said statewide polls had shown support for the Unz measure. A Dec.
9 Field poll showed 69 percent approval, including 66 percent among Latino voters.

However, Hayes-Raitt said other questions in the poll revealed voters’
true beliefs. She said 55 percent preferred education decisions be made at the local rather than state level. When asked how long it should take for students to learn English, 59 percent replied two or more years.



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