Long simmering tensions between the governor-appointed state board of education and state schools chief Delaine Eastin erupted Friday during a meeting to clarify the future of bilingual education in California following the passage of Proposition 227.
The dispute between the board and state superintendent boiled down to what role Eastin should play in advising districts on how they should carry out the measure, which would eliminate most bilingual programs. Eastin was a vocal opponent of the measure and some board members were concerned that she might undermine the intent of the new law.
Friday’s meeting was a vivid reminder of the passions surrounding the initiative. Educators are attempting to sort out its meaning even as a federal judge considers a lawsuit to block it. A hearing is scheduled for July 15 in the suit filed by civil rigts groups.
Proposition 227 has opened up a new set of questions about the role of individual school districts in educating the state’s 1.4 million limited-English speaking students.
Eastin’s office had begun drafting preliminary guidelines for schools to follow. But state board members said they thought Eastin was jumping the gun since they had not even had a chance to meet and discuss the issue. They wanted to review any materials regarding Proposition 227 before they were forwarded to districts.
“I think it’s very damaging to schools at this crisis period to have two different sets of information going out,” board member Robert Trigg said.
But Eastin said the board was overstepping its bounds in asking for such oversight. In a fiery speech, she chastised board members for what she viewed as an attempt to micro-manage the department of education.
“You will not muzzle this superintendent,” she said.
“You have a policy role and we are going to work very collaboratively with the board,” she said. “I will work collaboratively with you, but stay out of my department.”
In the end, the board clarified its position and voted to develop emergency guidelines by Aug. 1 that districts could follow beginning this fall.
“Clearly the board is the one to do regulations for implementation,” said Bill Lucia, the board’s executive director. “Clearly Delaine is the director of education. We recognize she has the responsibility to administer the department and execute policies.”
Doug Stone, spokesman for the department of education, said both the board and superintendent must understand their roles in the process.
“Since districts are looking to us, we do have some responsibility to give them some general direction,” Stone said. “The superintendent believes it’s her job to provide leadership and directions to all of the school districts.”
This is not the first time Eastin and the board have clashed. During hearings on the statewide learning standards, Eastin was highly critical of the board’s rewriting of the math document.