SAN FRANCISCO — The decision by California voters to eliminate bilingual education wasupheld Wednesday by a federal judge in the first round of what will likely be a multiyear legal tussle.
U.S. District Judge Charles Legge refused to delay the implementation of Proposition 227 — which requires English-only instruction in public schools by the start of the fall semester — while the issue wends its way through federal courts.
Attorneys fighting the measure said they will likely appeal Legge’s decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals before school starts in the fall.
Nonetheless, Legge’s decision was a reality check for school districts who haven’t begun to implement the measure.
“We certainly hoped that (the injunction) would go through,” Alameda County Superintendent Cheryl Hightower said. “Now, the districts are asking, ‘What now?’ It’s a very confusing time for districts.”
In his 48-page judgment against a temporary injunction, Legge said both sides of the Proposition 227 debate agree that children should learn English as soon as possible. The question is how to do that — either through bilingual education or English-only instruction.
The initiative passed in June will essentially eliminate bilingual education and require the state’s 1.4 million English language learners to spend typically one full year in English immersion classes before join-ing mainstream classes.
Opponents have argued that for many children, the best way to teach English is by using native language instruction while increasing English language fluency.
It’s valid educational debate, Legge acknowledged, but not the court’s job to decide.
“It is not the province of this court to impose on the people of California its view of which is the better education policy,” he said in his decision. “The voters of California expressed their policy preference by enacting Prop. 227.”
Legge said that once schools begin implementing the measure, results may show Proposition 227 is not the best way to teach non-English fluent students. “I can’t say ahead of time that individual needs will not be met,” he added. “It’s just too early, far too early.”
His comments, however, left the door wide open to legal challenge once the measure is implemented.
Opponents of the initiative, approved by 61 percent of voters in June, have said it will segregate non-English speakers from their English-fluent peers. In addition, they contend, Proposition 227 requires schools to focus on English instruction — meaning students will fall behind in academic subjects.
“The court has to recognize these children are some of the most vulnerable in our public schools,” said Deborah Escobedo, an attorney for the Multicultural Education, Training and Advocacy Inc., one of the civil rights groups fighting the measure. “We strongly cannot let them experiment on 1.4 million children.”
In addition, Escobedo argued schools will never be able to overhaul the way they teach 25 percent of the state’s school children by the fall semester.
Attorneys for Proposition 227, however, said school districts have been dragging their feet — pinning false hopes on an injunction.
“What have they done since June 3 of this year?” Senior Assistant Attorney General John Sugiyama said. “One gets the impression they’ll wait forever to implement.”
Staff writer Anna Gorman contributed to this report.