Foes of Proposition 227, seeking to take the political offensive, held news conferences in several cities Thursday to denounce the June 2 ballot measure that seeks to dismantle bilingual education in California.

In Orange County, about two dozen parents and community activists drove home their point by meeting at the Santa Ana school where Proposition 227 co-sponsor Gloria Matta Tuchman teaches first grade.

The initiative calls for students with limited English skills to receive about a year of English instruction before moving into mainstream classrooms.

Opponents charged that it would squelch local control of the methods used to teach limited English speakers.

“We have many programs that are working, and perhaps some that are failing, but we feel they could be changed within our own structure,” said Santa Ana parent Edmundo Cardenas, who has three children who have gone through bilingual classes. “This initiative is very divisive.”

Cardenas stood alongside representatives of the League of Women Voters, the Japanese American Citizens League and other groups opposed to the measure. Similar scenes played out in Los Angeles, San Diego, Fresno, San Jose, San Francisco and Sacramento. The opponents were mainly parents, educators and local elected officials.

Last week, one of California’s most prominent elected officials, Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, endorsed Proposition 227. The measure also has backing from the state Republican Party and a wide majority of registered voters polled this month by The Times.

Matta Tuchman, a candidate for state superintendent of public instruction, dismissed Thursday’s anti-227 events in an interview. Her school was out for spring break.

“The people will decide,” she said, “not activist groups or people who are trying to promote their own political agenda.”

But opponents say that voters will turn against the initiative once their message gets out.

“The more people learn about the initiative, they’ll understand that this is not really mending anything. It’s using a meat cleaver approach,” said Cristina Camarena, a pro-bilingual education activist from Los Angeles.

In Fresno, Joe Rocha of the California Latino Civil Rights Network attacked the initiative’s plan to spend $50 million a year for 10 years on adult English literacy programs. “That’s going to be a very big concern to the taxpayers here,” he said. Nativo Lopez, president of the Santa Ana Unified School District board of trustees, said the June vote may not end the issue.

“It’s not a foregone conclusion that if Proposition 227 passes, districts will just fall into line and give up the fight,” Lopez said. “Absolutely, we’ll resist.”

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