SACRAMENTO–In a meeting punctuated by an angry outburst from state Supt. of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, California’s Board of Education on Friday vowed to move quickly to develop emergency regulations to implement Proposition 227, the anti-bilingual education measure approved by voters.
Although opponents are seeking to block the measure in court, the board said it will push ahead and meet weekly to iron out by Aug. 1 guidelines on several vague aspects of the proposition–seeking to define what a one-year English immersion program for non-fluent students should be like, what textbooks should be used and how teachers should be trained.
“The weekly meetings are absolutely essential because of our serious commitment in going to work on this,” said Marion Joseph, a board member from Menlo Park.
Several school districts, however, pleaded with the board for exemptions from the proposition. And members of the state board–who are appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson, a 227 backer–seemed worried that the will of the voters might be undermined by the state Department of Education, headed by Eastin, who campaigned against the proposition.
Although Eastin has promised to implement it, the board proposed requiring her to get its approval for any advice she might give school districts.
That prompted a stern-faced Eastin to lash back, “You will not muzzle this superintendent!
“I administer the department, I execute the laws,” said Eastin, who as superintendent is an elected constitutional officer. “When and if you direct me to do something that is unconstitutional or illegal, I don’t do it.”
Eastin complained that state board members are intruding on her turf, going around her to make requests directly of her staff.
“Stop bothering my staff!” she demanded. “Stop calling them at home. Stop calling them when they’re on vacation. . . . If you want to be the superintendent, you should have taken out papers and run.”
Eastin’s tongue-lashing caused the board to narrow its motion, limiting it to requiring her to get prior approval only for policy directives.
But the board and Eastin’s department still were divided on the issue of whether entire school districts might be granted waivers from complying with the proposition, which all but bans instruction in any language other than English. It requires districts to provide non-fluent students with a year of intensive instruction in English before moving them into mainstream classes.
Some local officials and parents appeared before the board Friday to argue that they should be able to continue successful bilingual programs, including one in the Capistrano Unified School District in San Juan Capistrano that teaches all students in Spanish and English.
“Speaking Spanish isn’t bad,” said Donna Sabat, a native English speaker whose child is in the program. “To lose this program would be devastating.”
While the Legislature gives the state board the authority to waive almost any part of the Education Code, board lawyers said they do not believe that power extends to this proposition.
The measure does allow individual parents to seek exemptions for their children. Other than that, board lawyers noted, the proposition specifies that it can only be amended by another vote of the people or a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
An attorney for the education department, Michael Hersher, agreed that the board could not “undo the initiative.” But he said the board could give temporary relief to districts that, for example, cannot buy books in English before the start of school.
Even as a legal showdown on the proposition is brewing–with oral arguments scheduled for July 15 on a motion from a group of civil rights attorneys for a preliminary injunction–eight school districts, including those in Fresno, Berkeley, San Jose and Hayward, have filed requests to allow them to continue bilingual programs.
“I’m now faced with the task of designing a program I know nothing about,” a frustrated Marcos Guerrero, principal of a middle school in Hayward, told the board Friday. “Now, my middle school children are learning English and they are continuing to make progress in all areas academically.”
Yvonne Larsen, president of the board, said she understands the uncertainty faced by school districts that may have to overhaul well-established programs by the start of school in September. That is why the board intends to finish its work by Aug. 1, she said, “so the schools do have something available to them for direction.”
Among the issues before the board is how to allocate $100 million the proposition sets aside for community organizations to teach English to adults, who are expected to tutor children.
The problem is, at least 10 agencies that already run English classes are under investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Education for possibly misusing millions of dollars in federal funds.
Larsen said she was “truly troubled” by indications that state education officials had long been aware of problems with such programs but had not informed the state board. That prompted her to call for an independent audit of the department’s adult education programs, a proposal that will be taken up next month.