S.J., federal officials decry anti-bilingual ballot issue

On the same day a presidential commission voiced its opposition, San Jose Mayor Susan Hammer and a cadre of government and community leaders Friday condemned a June 2 initiative that would virtually eliminate bilingual education in California schools.

At a mid-morning news conference at the Santa Clara County government building, Hammer urged voters to oppose Proposition 227 and allow local districts to determine the best way to teach students who know little or no English. Behind her, parents and community leaders held signs that read “No on Unz.” The sentiment referred to the measure’s sponsor, Silicon Valley businessman Ron Unz.

Under the provisions of Proposition 227, students who aren’t fluent in English would be placed for one year in a special program designed to teach them the language. After a year, students would go to regular English classrooms.

“Educationally, this is unsound and untested,” Assemblyman Mike Honda (D-San Jose) said about Unz’s plan. Added Santa Clara County Supervisor Pete McHugh: “It is a non-solution to a very real problem.”

Unz maintains programs that teach students in their native language before moving them into English classes have been a waste of time and money. He said a one-year intensive English program is based on “common sense.”

Several parents and community activists spoke to the benefits of being bilingual. One parent, Marilyn Dion, has two children who attend San Jose Unified’s River Glen Elementary, which offers a dual-immersion Spanish and English program.

“Proposition 227 takes away my choice as a parent to decide what I want for my children,” she said.

On Friday, the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans passed a resolution saying the group “strongly opposes” the measure. The 25-member commission, formed by President Clinton in 1994 to address the problems Latino students face in public schools, is meeting in Southern California this week.

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