Los Angeles Times
Friday, December 4, 1998
Teachers Sue to Block Liability in Bilingual Education
Schools: Union lawsuit asks judge to strike portion of Prop.
227 that holds staff personally responsible for repeated violations.
By NICK ANDERSON, Times Staff Writer
California's largest teachers union Thursday asked a federal court to
strike down a portion of Proposition 227 that holds teachers and school
administrators personally liable for repeated violations of the anti-bilingual
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court
in Los Angeles, marked the entry of the California Teachers Assn. into
the spate of litigation that followed voter approval of the initiative
So far two federal courts have rejected attempts
to halt implementation of the far-reaching law, which requires schools
to teach students almost entirely in English as they are learning the language.
But the union's suit appeared to be narrowly
Tommye Hutto, a CTA spokeswoman, said the
285,000-member union remains committed to upholding the major provisions
of Proposition 227. Instead, Hutto said, teachers are fighting a single
section that gives disgruntled parents the right to sue individual teachers,
administrators or school board members who "willfully and repeatedly"
break the law.
That section of the initiative, the suit
alleges, violates the teachers' constitutional rights to free speech and
due process. And Hutto said it has had a "chilling effect" on
how teachers go about their work.
"With all the things teachers have to
deal with today," Hutto said, "they should not have to fear being
Representatives of the CTA and the sponsors
of the initiative say they are unaware of any such lawsuits that have been
filed by parents against teachers, principals or other school officials.
Ron K. Unz, the chief author of the initiative,
rejected the CTA's allegations. He said the section establishing personal
liability for scofflaws gives the initiative its "sharpest enforcement
What's more, Unz said, the teachers' fears
may be misplaced. He said that supporters of Proposition 227 probably would
go after school district officials who allegedly violate the law before
taking on rebellious teachers.
Aside from the CTA, the plaintiffs include
the Assn. of Mexican American Educators, the California Assn. for Asian-Pacific
Bilingual Education, the National Assn. for Bilingual Education, the Assn.
of California School Administrators and three teachers from Southern California.
The defendants named in the suit are Gov.
Pete Wilson, the State Board of Education and state Supt. of Public Instruction
Delaine Eastin. Bill Lucia, executive director of the state board, said
he will recommend that the board "vigorously" fight the lawsuit.
Last summer, two federal judges in San Francisco
and Los Angeles turned down requests for temporary restraining orders to
block implementation of the initiative. Those lawsuits are still pending.
In addition, a group of school districts
in the Bay Area has filed suit seeking to force the State Board of Education
to consider granting exemptions to the new law. So far, the board has refused
to consider such petitions.