GILROY, Calif.–Feb. 20–Would a resolution against an initiative to limit bilingual education pass before the Gilroy Unified School Board?

Many trustees — including Kim Merrill, Jane Howard and Gary Sanchez — said they want to learn more about the ballot initiative authored by Palo Alto software developer Ron Unz before they give a firm opinion on the matter at a March school board meeting.

Merrill is worried the initiative could mandate only one method of teaching children. Sanchez said the school board should be careful about wasting too much time on statewide issues.

Howard supports the initiative for sparking healthy debate about bilingual education, but she’s worried it could take away local control from school boards.

However, Trustee Mark Good is clear on his stand.

“(English) immersion is the way to go,” he said. “Bilingual education has demonstrated and proved itself to be a failure. The GUSD is not doing the job it should be doing by keeping children in Spanish-speaking classes.”

Good added, “Let me ask you this. Who are the only people you hear making noise about (keeping bilingual education)? Bilingual educators. … I may be guessing, but I don’t think anybody on the board thinks the Unz Initiative is the answer. However, I think it’s a whole lot better than what we have now.”

In March, the Gilroy school board is expected to vote on passing a resolution against the initiative — an option first brought to the board by Trustee Richard Rodriguez, who is against the initiative.

Trustees M.A. Bowe and Patricia Blomquist were not available for comment today.

The resolution is expected to go before the school board in March so that trustees have time to learn more about the Initiative and review sample resolutions.

The ballot measure would require that all students in California public schools be taught in English through a mandatory one-year immersion program before being placed in English-only classrooms.

It is expected to go before voters June 2.

The initiative gives parents some choice by allowing them to file waivers, a choice they currently have in Gilroy’s schools, with both English-only and bilingual programs.

But Rodriguez said the initiative’s waiver-filing process would be extremely cumbersome to parents and schools.

The principal, superintendent and school board would have to approve the waiver, he said. Once they did, they would have to find 19 other parents to form a class.

“If they did that, it wouldn’t be until February or March (that a waiver was granted),” he said. “It would be so complex and complicated … If people thought class-size reduction was a nightmare to implement, this would be even worse.”

Rodriguez is against the initiative because he believes children cannot learn English in one year. Bilingual teachers wouldn’t be able to use their language skills.

Teachers should be the ones who decide when children are ready for English-only classes, he said.

And Merrill is clear that mandating only one approach for Gilroy’s limited English population isn’t the way to go.

“A child spending eight years in an ESL class, that’s obscene,” he said.

“But no kid is a cookie cutter. If the Unz Initiative means a cookie cutter approach, then I have a problem with that. It’s something I have to research.”

Sanchez — who also has not formed a solid opinion — said he was concerned about a local school board taking a stand on a statewide issue.

Sanchez said the school board has previously taken a stand against Proposition 187, a ballot measure that limited services to illegal immigrants.

But continuing to bog down the school board on state issues may be a poor use of time, said Sanchez.

“Are voters in San Luis Obispo going to care what stand the Gilroy school board takes? It comes down to things like the Berkeley City Council declaring the city a no nuclear free zone and taking a stand on Cuba,” he said. “Who really cares what Berkeley says about Cuba?”

And Sanchez said he was concerned about the way discussions are going on the initiative.

“My concern is that this has become a political initiative, one in which we’re defining our opinions based on what’s politically liberal or conservative, not what’s best for our children,” said Sanchez. “We’re not being successful in teaching English right now to children. Something needs to change. But I’m not sure a one-size fits all approach is what will do it.”

If it passes, Gilroy would join many other local school boards, including San Jose’s East Side Union High School District, Los Angeles Unified and the California School Board Association in opposing the initiative.

In December, the California School Boards Association — which represents 900 school boards — stated its firm opposition to the initiative for mandating a “single-untested approach” to English language learning and taking away local school board control for determining what’s best for children.

Gilroy parents now wanting their children to learn in English immersion classes can send them to San Ysidro or Luigi Aprea schools. Parents can also file a waiver at any school saying they want them in English-only programs.

Rodriguez, an assistant principal at a San Jose elementary school, taught for 18 years before becoming an administrator, although never in a bilingual class.

At the time he was teaching, Rodriguez said there wasn’t a bilingual program at his school, although he’d often using his Spanish speaking skills to help children.

“It improved their self-esteem tremendously, just the fact that I was speaking their language in the classroom,” he said.

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