Educators seek Prop. 227 fix

LAWSUIT: They want some of the initiative's provisions thrown out by the court.

Arguing that Proposition 227 is vague and tramples free speech, the California Teachers Association and other education groups filed a lawsuit Thursday to have part of the anti-bilingual initiative thrown out.

The suit, filed in federal district court in Los Angeles, challenges a clause of Proposition 227 that exposes teachers and school officials to lawsuits for violating the initiative.

The plaintiffs argue that the law is so unclear that teachers, principals and school board members don’t know what constitutes a violation. Proposition 227’s backers counter that the lawsuit is another fruitless attempt to circumvent the law.

Passed by 61 percent of state voters in June, Proposition 227 states that all California schoolchildren will learn English “by being taught in English,” and that, except in limited cases, students must be taught “overwhelmingly” in English.

The measure was written by Ron Unz, a Silicon Valley millionaire. It seeks to end bilingual education, a practice in which non-English-speaking students learn academic subjects in their native language, then gradually transition into English.

Teachers “are concerned that the way the statute is written is overly vague and does not direct educators in what to do to comply with the law,” said Priscilla Winslow, a CTA staff attorney who helped write the lawsuit.

Some teachers also worry that they could be sued for using Spanish or other foreign languages on the playground or to tutor students, Winslow said. Although they know of no lawsuits against teachers to date, “Mr. Unz has been threatening that on a very frequent basis,” she said.

Sheri Annis, spokeswoman for the pro-227 English for the Children campaign, said the law tried to be flexible, not vague. “This lawsuit is simply another effort to eliminate accountability from the classrooms,” she said.

She said the law clearly applies to classroom instruction only. Plus, she said, teachers can be sued for “willfully and repeatedly” violating the law, not for using a few words of Spanish in class.

Steve Blum, president of the Ventura Unified Education Association, supports the lawsuit. He said local teachers do worry about being sued and think the law is vague.

“I’ll follow the law, but tell me what it is,” Blum said.

The suit was filed by the CTA, the Association of California School Administrators, the Association of Mexican American Educators, the California Association for Asian-Pacific Bilingual Education and the National Association of Bilingual Educators.

Defendants include Gov. Pete Wilson, the state Board of Education and State Superintendent Delaine Eastin, Winslow said.

Since 227’s passage, two other lawsuits have been filed challenging part or all of the initiative. So far, no part of the measure has been ruled illegal, according to the 227 campaign.

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