Supreme Court rejects initiative

DENVER—A ballot proposal that would eliminate bilingual education in Colorado contains misleading language and cannot be presented in its current form to voters this fall, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The ruling makes it highly unlikely the initiative will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Justices said language set by the state Title Board for the initiative’s titles and summary was misleading and contained a prohibited slogan.

The initiative proposes a constitutional amendment that would require all public school students to be taught in English.

Students whose primary language is not English would be taught through a temporary English-immersion program. Parents would be allowed to pull their children out of an immersion program and enroll them in a bilingual program elsewhere.

The state Title Board on April 19 approved language of the titles and summary of the initiative that would be used on the November ballot and on campaign material.

Opponents and backers of the initiative have until July 25 to ask the court for a new hearing. The Title Board cannot take further action on the initiative without a directive from the court.

But even if the board could adopt new language acceptable to justices, initiative backers would have only until Aug. 7 to submit some 62,600 signatures of registered voters to the secretary of state’s office to place the initiative on the ballot.

Backers said they will work to put the measure on the 2002 ballot.

“This decision is deeply disappointing to the parents of children caught in failing bilingual programs who desperately want their children to learn English,” said Linda Chavez, chairwoman of One Nation Indivisible, an initiative proponent.

Opponents challenged the initiative on two grounds. They said it contained more than one subject in violation of constitutional requirements governing ballot initiatives and that the approved titles and summary contained misleading language.

Justices turned down arguments the initiative contained more than one subject, but agreed with opponents on other issues.

“The titles and summary fail to note that the initiative provides that ‘no school or school district shall be required to offer a bilingual education program,”‘ the ruling said. “Voters could erroneously believe that school boards retain their authority to require bilingual programs in addition to English immersion.”

Unless schools voluntarily offer a bilingual-education program, parents of non-English-speaking children may have no meaningful choice, but justices said the titles and summary made it appear as if parents would have choices of programs for their children.

The justices also ruled including in the titles the statement that children must be taught English “as rapidly and effectively as possible” was a prohibited catch phrase that generates support for a proposal without contributing to voters’ understanding.

The majority of justices rejected arguments the initiative contained more than one subject. But in a separate consenting decision, justices Alex Martinez and Michael Bender said they believed the initiative was flawed because it dealt with separate subjects by reallocating school districts’ authority to control the education of students.

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