Local Schools "Wait and See" on Prop 227

A Superior Court judge’s ruling that tilted in favor of school bilingual programs apparently will have little effect on local efforts to reinstate native language instruction as the issue gets debated in higher courts.

Robert Henry, general counsel for the Sonoma County Office of Education, said local school officials who want to maintain bilingual programs in spite of Proposition 227 are waiting for the debate to play itself out at state levels.

“The attitude is to wait and see what happens rather than spend a lot of money on lawsuits in this county,” Henry said.

The Healdsburg and Windsor school districts are two of 38 districts in the state that have asked for waivers from Proposition 227 prohibitions on bilingual programs. All have been rejected by the state Board of Education, which has maintained it cannot legally allow districts to opt out of the voter-approved initiative.

Bilingual program supporters applauded a ruling Thursday by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Henry Needham Jr. that the state board must consider granting waivers to school districts and cannot summarily dismiss them as a matter of policy.

Henry said he agreed with the judge’s decision because “it was obviously an error to say that 227 is one of those provisions of the state Education Code that is not waiveable.” Proposition 227 now is part of the code, which severely restricts the type of issues that cannot be waived, such as teacher tenure and due process.

“Now the state board will have to decide what to do,” Henry said.

The state board will meet Sept. 9-11 in Sacramento. Officials said the board may decide at that time whether to appeal the Alameda County ruling in higher courts.

In any case, state education officials have said they do not intend to begin enforcing Proposition 227 provisions in the first month of the school year.

Meanwhile, attorneys in the Alameda County case were at odds over whether the judge’s order applied only to the three districts that filed the challenge or to all three dozen districts who have had waiver rejections.

The education board’s executive director, Bill Lucia, said he believes the Superior Court ruling only applies to the Berkeley, Hayward and Oakland districts that filed suit. Lucia said the board would seriously consider filing an appeal to determine whether the ruling applied statewide.

However, others disagreed, saying all California districts now are eligible to seek waivers allowing them to continue teaching students in their native language.

William M. Quinn Jr., an attorney representing the three districts, said “My view is the state board would be obliged to consider all waivers.”

Michael Hersher, the head counsel for the state Department of Education, and Deputy Attorney General Angela Botelho, the state board’s counsel, agreed the judge’s decision appears to open the waiver process to all districts that want to seek one. The education department and the state board were named as defendants in the suit brought by the three East Bay school districts.

This story contains information from Knight Ridder Newspapers.

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