Los Angeles Times

Friday, December 4, 1998

Teachers Sue to Block Liability in Bilingual Education Law
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 education law.
     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 in June.
     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 focused.
     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 sued."
     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 teeth."
     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.