OAKLAND — In a case that has become a national symbol of frustration with bilingual education, a judge Friday rejected a parent’s plea to put his son in an English-only class at his neighborhood school.
But the case is far from dead, and could yet become a test of the anti-bilingual Proposition 227.
The case began last year when George Louie sued the Oakland school district over the placement of his son Travell, 6, in a Cantonese bilingual class at Lincoln Elementary School. Louie demanded a class where only English was spoken, but there was no English-only kindergarten at the Chinatown school, because there were not enough English speakers to make a full class.
The district offered Louie an English-only class at another school, and said it would provide bus passes for Travell. But Louie, an amputee with a son to school.
On Friday, however, Alameda County Unified Superior Court Judge Henry Needham Jr. ruled that the district had done enough to accommodate Louie’s wishes, and denied his request for a writ of mandate forcing the district to do more.
The district and Louie’s lawyers disagreed over whether the judge’s decision rejects all or just some of his claims. But clearly, unless Louie files an appeal, the decision cuts the heart out of his case.
That does not mean, however, that Oakland has heard the last of Louie and his son, who have achieved some national fame as symbols of the problems with bilingual education. After The Oakland Tribune first published accounts of their lawsuit, the two testified before Congressional committees and appeared on network television news programs.
The case was filed before voters passed Prop. 227, which drastically curtails bilingual programs. The proposition, passed by voters in June, takes effect with the start of this school year.
Louie filed his current suit against the district with help from the Pacific Legal Foundation, which has won crucial cases against California’s bilingual education system. And there were indications the well-financed fight may not be over.
Louie met this week at his apartment for nearly two hours with Ron Unz, the Silicon Valley millionaire who co-authored Prop. 227. So when he vowed to refile his suit — this time under the provisions of 227 — there may be good reason to think he can do it.
In an interview, Unz said he had not made a decision whether to pursue Louie’s case. But he said, “The one thing I will say is, certainly Oakland is one of the districts we’re looking at very carefully.”
Meanwhile, Travell, who spent much of Friday’s hearing playing with the TV news camera people, will return to Lincoln when school opens in Oakland on Tuesday. Principal Wendy Lee said there still are not enough English-speaking first-graders to make a class, so Travell likely will be placed in a “sheltered” class, where children are taught in English but given assistance with language.
The district may have won legally, but still faces a public relations challenge in defending its decision to deny English-only classes to the highly telegenic son of a one-legged African-American single father who subsists on disability relief. Roy Combs, the district’s chief lawyer, cast the case as a principled victory against segregation by language. “I don’t think we had a choice, once this particular lawsuit came in, but to fight it vigorously,” he said.
Louie, while vowing to refile his suit, also offered his view of the judge who ruled against him. “I think that the judge is an incompetent judicial derelict,” he said.