Calif. vote to ban bilingual education sparks lawsuits

LOS ANGELES — A day after Californians voted to junk bilingual education, opponents of the new law went to federal court Wednesday to block it, and teachers pledged to resist it.

Civil rights groups represented by the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a class-action lawsuit charging that the law violates the civil rights of youngsters who speak little English.

San Francisco school officials, meanwhile, voted to continue bilingual programs until ordered to stop them, and to pay the legal bills of any teacher sued for violating the measure.

“It’s an absurd measure which has no educational basis and would set our students back 30 years,” said Carlota del Portillo, Board of Education president.

Ron Unz, the software millionaire who was the measure’s No. 1 backer, pronounced it “ironclad constitutional.”

The measure, Proposition 227, passed with more than 60 percent of the vote Tuesday.

It essentially does away with California’s 30-year-old bilingual education program by requiring that all children be taught in English. Students who speak little English will first get a one-year English immersion program.

Districts have 60 days to implement the new policy. Under the measure, teachers can be sued if they refuse to teach overwhelmingly in English.

Opponents of bilingual education argue that many youngsters never adequately learn English. Supporters fear that children who are thrown into English-only classes will fall behind academically.

Steve Zimmer, who teaches English as a second language, said many teachers won’t comply with the new law unless officials prove children won’t be hurt. He said at least 1,500 teachers have signed a pledge to oppose any efforts to hold teachers and administrators liable.

“We believe that it would be a greater offense to implement that than to refuse, even if it puts our jobs at risk,” Zimmer said.

“Yes on 227″ spokeswoman Sheri Annis said educators’ resistance was expected and won’t work. “Californians have made it clear that they want their children to be taught English from Day One,” she said.

Reaction to the vote was mixed at Los Angeles’ Ninth Street Elementary School, where a boycott of bilingual education by Hispanic parents last year was the genesis of Proposition 227.

Rogelio Garcia Galindo said bilingual education worked for his fifth-grade son. Galindo, who speaks only Spanish, said he’s worried about children to come: “They’re getting a raw deal.”

Bertha Mata, who speaks English fluently and has her children in English-only classes, said the opposite is true. “If they have no other chance to speak Spanish, they will study really hard to learn English,” she said.

Meanwhile, Republicans who promised to put a crimp in unions’ power wound up looking like the skinny guys on the beach when labor flexed its muscle to defeat Proposition 226 in California.

The proposal would have forced unions to get approval from all members before spending dues on politics. But state and national labor unions mounted a huge grass-roots campaign and spent more than $11 million on TV ads.

On the other side, many business groups declined to join the fray, and California Republicans complained that national party leaders didn’t support them.

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