3 school districts sue over Prop. 227

Seek delay until waivers heard

OAKLAND — The Oakland, Berkeley and Hayward unified school districts have sued the state Board of Education in an attempt to delay compliance with Proposition 227, the ballot measure that ended bilingual education.

The suit, filed Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court, claims the board should be forced to hear the districts’ requests for waivers exempting them from complying with the measure. The board has refused to hear pleas for such waivers, claiming it does not have authority to grant them.

Prop. 227, approved by 61 percent of the voters June 2 and upheld by a federal judge last week, requires all students to be taught almost completely in English. Students who speak limited English must be taught in separate, English-only classrooms for up to a year.

Many school districts have voiced desires to delay — perhaps indefinitely — implementation of the law. But while the state Board of Education has the power to give districts waivers from complying with schooling laws, the board recently said it will not approve waivers letting entire districts maintain bilingual classes.

Rae Belisle, the state board’s legal counsel, said the board believes it does not “have the authority to utilize our general waiver power to waive an initiative enacted by the people.

“It makes good sense we’re not able to elevate ourselves above the Legislature, the governor and the judiciary — or the people, for that matter — by waiving a legislative initiative,” she said. “Sixty-one percent of voters voted for it and we don’t have the power to wipe it out. It would be an oddity if we were to have more power than the people who created us.”

The lawsuit claims it would be hard or impossible for the districts to convert to English-only instruction by September while complying with federal laws that require schools to overcome their students’ language barriers. A hearing date has not been set.

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