Opponents of a proposal that would halt bilingual education in California’s schools met Sunday in Modesto to launch a campaign to defeat the measure on the June ballot.

More than 50 people from the Central Valley and Bay Area attended the meeting to coordinate efforts against Proposition 227.

One event being planned for Modesto is a “March for the Children” this coming Sunday at Vintage Faire mall. The event is sponsored by the Coalition for Children’s Education, a Modesto group opposed to Proposition 227.

The June 2 ballot measure would require public schools to teach in English and end most bilingual education programs, except when parents specifically ask for bilingual help for their children.

The measure calls for children who speak little or no English to spend their first year in a “sheltered English immersion class.” After that, they would be shifted to classes in which only English is spoken.

“Those who argue for Proposition 227 say there are problems with our bilingual education system,” said Richard Braun, a second-grade teacher at Shackelford School who is fluent in Spanish. “But what Proposition 227 proposes won’t solve the problem.”

Braun is a coordinator of local efforts to defeat the measure. His wife is Hispanic and his oldest son, Giancarlos, 10, is enrolled in Shackelford’s bilingual program. The Brauns also plan to enroll their 5-year-old son, Nicolas, in the bilingual program.

“I won’t have that option if Proposition 227 passes,” he said.

Braun said his family speaks mostly Spanish at home, and he speaks Spanish in his class of 30 students, all of whom speak Spanish.

Shackelford School’s bilingual program has scored major successes, he argued, thanks to adequate staffing and resources.

“All of our bilingual students are reading in English by the time they’re in the fifth or sixth grade,” Braun said. Bilingual students are well represented in the school’s Chess Club, and in spelling bee and Science Olympiad, he added.

Juan Mercado, a Modesto heavy-equipment operator, said he believes that if Proposition 227 passes, it will represent a setback in the education of his five children, ages 3 through 11.

His oldest daughter, Jazmin, was doing poorly in her early school years until he enrolled her in a bilingual program in second grade at Bret Harte School, he said.

“She wasn’t comfortable in a class where they only spoke English. She didn’t want to go to school,” said Mercado, a native of Jalisco, Mexico. He and his wife speak Spanish at home to the children so they don’t lose their cultural heritage.

Today, his daughter is in sixth grade and doing well. She also has learned to read and speak English well, he said.

Ricardo Cordova, a member of the Modesto City Schools board of trustees, said he’s concerned many non-English speaking students will fall behind in core subjects such as math and science without bilingual instruction.

Dozens of school districts and teachers organizations throughout the state, including the Modesto Teachers Association, have come out in opposition to Proposition 227. Cordova said he hopes Modesto’s school board will do the same.

“Proposition 227 takes local control away from school boards elected by the community,” he said. “Bilingual education has worked for some, and hasn’t worked as well for others. But the initiative process is not the way to make a modification to this program.”

Bilingual education is failing in some school districts because of a shortage of bilingual teachers and resources, Cordova explained — not because the idea itself is flawed.

Information presented at Sunday’s meeting showed that only about one-third of the 1.4 million children who need language help in California’s schools are instructed in their native language in such core subjects as math, science and social studies.

Cordova said the one-year transition proposed under Proposition 227 is not long enough and sets up children for failure in subjects like math, science and English.

But the initiative’s author, Ron Unz, a wealthy Palo Alto software entrepreneur, said he was inspired to write the initiative after hearing that Hispanic parents were demanding that the Los Angeles school district teach English to their children.

Early polls show the initiative is backed by more than two-thirds of voters. But opponents contend that support is eroding as more and more non-English speaking families learn what the measure will mean to their children’s education.

For more information on Sunday’s march, call 529-9280.

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