No avoiding Prop. 227 for schools

Appeal court reverses ruling on bilingual teaching

California school districts cannot duck the state’s voter imposed ban on bilingual education, the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Monday.

The ruling prevents district officials from applying to the state Board of Education for a waiver from Proposition 227 — the voter-approved initiative that requires districts to teach students “overwhelmingly” in English.

Three districts — Oakland, Hayward and Berkeley — filed a lawsuit a month after the initiative passed in June 1998 to seek a waiver from having to implement the law. A previous ruling by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Henry Needham, Jr., sided with the school districts.

The 1st District Court of Appeal, however, disagreed and said only individual parents, not an entire district, can seek a waiver.

The court found that “voters believed Proposition 227 would ensure school districts could not escape the obligation to provide English language public education for (non-English speaking) students in the absence of parental waivers,” and that “parents favoring English instruction for their children are assured by law that it will be provided without the need to lobby school boards or form parent groups.

“We see no way that the guarantee of English-only instruction subject solely to parental waiver can be accomplished if school boards are allowed to avoid compliance with the entire Chapter by seeking waivers, no matter how well intentioned administrators may be in doing so,” the court wrote.

Prop. 227 co-sponsor Ron Unz, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, said the ruling closed “a very serious loophole” in the law created by the initiative.

“If districts could exempt themselves from 227 … it could have seriously undercut the impact of 227 and violated the will of the people,” he said.

Hayward Unified Superintendent Marlin Foxworth said he was “deeply disappointed” in the ruling and that he would discuss a possible appeal to the state Supreme Court with the Hayward school board and the superintendents from Oakland and Berkeley.

“When I heard (the ruling), I tried to not go through the roof,” Foxworth said. “The quality of what we’ve been doing here speaks for itself.”

Foxworth said his district has a successful bilingual education program and simply wants to continue a program that works.

“We don’t mess with our children in our district,” he said.

Prop. 227 passed with 61 percent of voters and was implemented last fall. The measure allows parents to request a waiver and opt for bilingual education — which uses the student’s native language to teach academic subjects. The measure, however, says nothing about district waivers.

Many districts, including the three plain tiffs, have maintained bilingual education programs through parental waivers.

State law does provide districts with the ability to waive almost any aspects of the California Education Code, and the state Board of Education must grant the waiver if the district is meeting student needs.

When several districts requested waivers from Prop. 227, however, the state board said they did not have the authority to grant those waivers — a position held up by the court Monday.

Rae Belisle, legal counsel to the state Board of Education, said she is “very pleased” with the appellate court’s decision.

“It was a tough road … but hopefully it’s all over now,” she said. “I think most school districts have done a great job in going for ward with what the people wanted in the initiative. Those decisions are not made by us, we just have to implement them.”

Another lawsuit, filed by bilingual activists to dismantle the law, is pending in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.


STAFF WRITER Josh Richman contributed to this story.

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