Los Angeles Times
Thursday, May 21, 1998
L.A. Teachers Group Pledges Defiance if Prop. 227 Passes
By NICK ANDERSON, Times Staff Writer
About 1,000 pro-bilingual education teachers in the Los Angeles Unified
School District have signed pledges to oppose or, if necessary, disobey
Proposition 227 if the statewide initiative that would dismantle bilingual
instruction is approved on June 2, a teachers group said Wednesday.
announcement by the teacher group On Campus comes as some educators across
the state begin to consider strategies to resist implementing the ballot
measure, which holds a wide lead among voters in most public opinion polls.
Two school districts
have asked state education regulators for waivers from the terms of Proposition
227, hoping to continue classroom teaching in two languages. Some educators
point to loopholes within the initiative that would allow parents to petition
once a year for waivers, under limited circumstances. Others
suggest that applying for quasi-independent charter school status would
be a way around an initiative that would become part of the state Education
And, as frequently
happens with controversial California ballot measures, there are threats
of lawsuits to tie up the measure in court.
Each of those strategies faces tough obstacles. Proponents of the initiative
sponsored by Silicon Valley businessman Ron K. Unz warn that it would be
irresponsible for school officials to consider any action other than following
But the resistance
movement reflects a growing urgency among educators as they realize that
an initiative mandating a radical change in California's school system
may well pass--and that it would take effect a mere 60 days after the election.
The pledge signed
by the group of Los Angeles Unified teachers states, in part: "I will
continue to use and/or support the use of bilingual education as one program
to meet the needs of students."
That is a direct
challenge to the proposition, which would require all-English or mostly
English instruction throughout California public schools, with few exceptions.
to take a stand on behalf not only of our students and our parents, but
also on behalf of the integrity of our profession," said Steve Zimmer,
who teaches English as a second language at John Marshall High School and
is spokesman for the group. "We're not going to roll over."
opponents of Proposition 227 are by no means conceding the election. But
he said that abandoning bilingual education "flies in the face of
the unwritten oath of teaching, which is that when we have children in
our classroom, we're going to use every resource available to help those
On the whole,
Los Angeles teachers are sharply divided over bilingual education, a poll
conducted by the teachers union found. Many of the district's 32,000 teachers
are deeply committed to it. Many are just as deeply opposed. What
the teachers, principals and senior administrators will do if Proposition
227 passes is critical because the 680,000-student district has more students
with limited English skills--300,000--than any other school system in the
There are about
1.4 million students in California public schools with limited English
skills; they amount to a quarter of all enrollment. Nearly one-third of
those students are in formal bilingual education programs.
The Los Angeles
school board is on record against the initiative. But Pat Spencer, a district
spokesman, said teachers will be obligated to follow the law if the initiative
passes and takes effect. The school board has not taken a vote on whether
it would challenge the initiative in court.
But Sheri Annis,
a spokeswoman for the pro-227 campaign, known as English for the Children,
said: "Once our initiative becomes law, it would certainly be unwise
for teachers to resist. Teachers should work together to make sure that
the programs are successful."
least two school systems have petitioned the state for permission to avoid
Proposition 227's anti-bilingual provisions if the measure passes.
One is the San
Mateo-Foster City School District, which is seeking to protect bilingual
programs for its limited-English students and its "two-way immersion
program"--teaching two languages to English- and Spanish-speaking
other is Orange County's Saddleback Valley Unified School District, which
also wants to protect a two-way program that serves nearly 400 students
at Gates Elementary School in Lake Forest.
it's a wonderful program, a parent-choice program, producing kids who are
fluent in both English and Spanish," said Peter A. Hartman, superintendent
of Saddleback Valley Unified. "We think school districts should be
able to offer a program like that."
As for the possibility
of obtaining waivers under the initiative itself--a process outlined in
the text of Proposition 227--Hartman said legal experts have advised him
such an effort would be difficult.
say they expect many more districts to make inquiries about waivers. The
State Board of Education has the authority to grant waivers to portions
of the Education Code. But the outlook for such waiver applications is
not good, said education officials speaking on condition of anonymity.
said it is unlikely that state board members, or any other state officials,
would want to flout a ballot measure popular with voters.
Thomas A. Saenz,
regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational
Fund, said that if the initiative succeeds, lawsuits will probably follow
in federal or state courts. He said MALDEF is exploring possible legal
the best way to get rid of this is at the polls," Saenz said. "No
one wants to concede defeat."