Schools win way around Prop. 227

Judge's tentative ruling would allow districts to petition the state for blanket waiver of the anti-bilingual education law

California school districts may still be able to opt out of the state’s new anti-bilingual education law by requesting blanket waivers from the Board of Education, a judge tentatively ruled Wednesday.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Henry E. Needham, Jr. could require the board to hear local waiver requests — something the board has refused to do. If the decision stands after oral arguments today, districts could petition to completely avoid voter-approved Proposition 227.

The judge could also issue a temporary restraining order today that blocks Prop. 227 from taking effect in the 31 school districts that already requested waivers.

“We were confident that we were right on the law, and we are pleased with the judge’s ruling and believe he will maintain that ruling,” said Celia Ruiz, lawyer for the Oakland, Berkeley, Hayward and Parlier districts that brought the suit against the state. “We are confident that once the state reviews the waiver application, it will be approved.”

The legal challenge is the latest effort by opponents to get around Prop. 227 before school starts in September. Prop. 227 largely eliminates bilingual education in favor of teaching non-English speaking students in English.

The State Board of Education said it has no authority to issue districtwide waivers. Board members also said they did not wish to thwart the will of 61 percent of the voters who supported the measure.

Supporters of Prop. 227 said the judge should not make the state board second-guess California voters.

“We think the state board should not be able to grant blanket waivers and the state board said it does not wish to grant blanket waivers,” said Sheri Annis, spokeswoman for the English for the Children campaign that sponsored the June initiative. “Therefore any other ruling but to let the initiative go forward and be implemented is outrageous.”

A provision of Prop. 227 allows parents to get around the English immersion method mandated by the proposition by signing written waivers. But the initiative doesn’t mention districtwide waivers.

Opponents argued that since Prop. 227 does not amend the California constitution, it falls within the state education code. And districts have the right to request waivers for any portion of the education code, Ruiz said.

“The Berkeley Unified School District is not anti-Prop. 227; we just want to be able to use native language in our instructional program,” said Jack McLaughlin, superintendent of the Berkeley schools.

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