Los Angeles Times
Thursday, September 11, 1997
Judge OKs District's Attempt to Curb Bilingual Education
Teaching: Orange Unified officials are elated as restraining
order on English-immersion plan is lifted. Foes vow to continue battle.
By NICK ANDERSON, Times Staff Writer
In a case testing the legality of alternatives to bilingual education,
a federal judge ruled Wednesday that the Orange Unified School District
may renew a controversial program to teach Spanish-speaking children almost
entirely in English.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge William
B. Shubb of Sacramento lifted a restraining order that a state court issued
against the school district three weeks ago.
In his 17-page decision, Shubb wrote that
"the court will not second-guess the educational policy choices made
by educational authorities," noting that Orange Unified's English-immersion
program had been endorsed by the district's board of trustees and the State
Board of Education.
The case has drawn close attention as the
29,000-student district--encompassing Orange, Villa Park and portions of
Anaheim, Garden Grove and Santa Ana--has fought this summer to become the
largest in the state to drop bilingual education programs during the last
At the same time, former Republican gubernatorial
candidate Ron K. Unz has launched a campaign to curtail bilingual education
throughout the state through an initiative proposed for the June 1998 ballot.
Elated by Wednesday's ruling, Orange Unified
officials said they would immediately purchase English-only textbooks and
phase in English-intensive teaching for students who are not fluent in
the language. In prior years, about 1,500 elementary students had been
enrolled in bilingual classes with instruction primarily in Spanish.
"I look at this as a victory for the
community and the schools, but especially for our foreign-language students,"
said Martin Jacobson, president of the Orange Unified board of trustees.
The district's English-immersion program,
launched Aug. 1 as a one-year trial, was halted Aug. 18 by a Sacramento
County Superior Court judge after a coalition of parents, Latino advocates
and bilingual educators sued to stop it. They argued that school officials
had not taken the proper steps to safeguard the right of students to have
equal access to the curriculum regardless of their language background.
Peter D. Roos, a San Francisco-based attorney
for those plaintiffs, said Wednesday that he will continue legal efforts
to block the experiment, though he would not say whether the federal court
ruling itself will be appealed. He said the coalition first will try "within
a week" to renew its arguments in the state court system and warned
that it might be "a bit premature" for Orange Unified to celebrate.
"Switching today might mean having to
switch back again next week," Roos said. "If you cared about
consistency in education, you would not be changing your program until
[the legal issues] are resolved in the next several weeks."
Amin David, president of Los Amigos of Orange
County, a Latino rights group that is one of the plaintiffs, said he was
saddened by the ruling but vowed to "exhaust all remedies possible"
before conceding the case.
The lawsuit was originally filed in Sacramento
County Superior Court, partly because state education officials were named
as co-defendants. It was moved to federal court at the request of Orange
Unified attorneys, who contended that federal legal issues were at stake.
Shubb's ruling split the lawsuit into two
parts. Issues of federal law will stay in his court--where he said the
plaintiffs had shown "a low probability of success."
State issues, however, will go back to the
state court. Among them is how much authority the State Board of Education
has to grant waivers to school districts that would otherwise be required
to offer bilingual education. In California, about three of every 10 students
who are classified as English learners are taught primarily in their native
language--the vast majority in Spanish. Others are offered a variety of
English-development programs. Some get little or no special help at all.
Orange Unified administrators insist that
their plan will pour more resources than ever into the education of English-learning
children. For students who need help with the transition, the district
plans to use bilingual aides in the classroom. It also plans to offer English
tutoring sessions outside normal school hours.
State Department of Education analysts have
criticized the district for failing to include an effective plan to evaluate
the success of the new program.
Hundreds of parents also have protested the
plan, saying they prefer to keep bilingual education as an option. Silvina
Rubinstein, executive director of the California Assn. for Bilingual Education,
a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said the district had been "disrespectful"
of parental rights.