Los Angeles Times
Tuesday, August 19, 1997
Judge Halts Orange Schools' English-Immersion Program
By NICK ANDERSON, LESLEY WRIGHT, Special to
A Sacramento County judge called a halt Monday to the Orange Unified
School District's new English-immersion program for students who speak
other languages, reversing a key victory school administrators had won
last month in their campaign to drop bilingual education.
The temporary restraining order granted by
Judge Ronald B. Robie of Sacramento County Superior Court was a significant
legal victory for California's bilingual proponents at a time when bilingual
education has come under increasing political attack.
This summer, state lawmakers have been debating
legislation that could dilute state bilingual education requirements. In
addition, an anti-bilingual education group is gathering signatures for
a proposed ballot measure that would require teaching students in English
Robie's decision sets the stage for a court
battle over exactly what services school districts must offer children
who are not fluent in English, if they choose not to teach them in their
Latino rights advocates and bilingual proponents
from throughout the state who had joined the lawsuit said they relish the
prospect of a legal fight.
"How wonderful!" said Amin David,
president of Los Amigos of Orange County, a Latino rights group that is
one of the plaintiffs in the case. "Of course we are highly elated.
We also must be sober enough to tell you that a lot of things hang in the
balance. A lot of material needs to be provided to convince the court."
In his three-page decision, Robie said he
was not satisfied that Orange educators had taken enough steps to safeguard
the rights of non-English-speaking children--echoing several points made
in a critical Department of Education report earlier this summer. Still,
the judge said federal law does not require native-language teaching.
The suit was filed in Sacramento County Superior
Court because the State Board of Education allowed the waiver to take effect.
The judge's order left the school district
in a jam. About a quarter of Orange Unified's 29,000 students are not fluent
in English; of those, about 1,500 in primary grades had been taught in
a traditional bilingual program until the district formally switched to
English-based teaching on Aug. 1.
The district serves the cities of Orange
and Villa Park, and portions of Anaheim, Garden Grove and Santa Ana.
But a top district official said Orange may
have trouble backpedaling: 28 of its 45 certified bilingual teachers left
the district in the wake of the school board's unanimous decision in May
to move to English immersion.
The board's decision had been reinforced
in July when the State Board of Education declined to approve or deny the
district's request for an alternative teaching program--effectively granting
Orange a year to go ahead as it wished. Orange Unified had become the fourth
Orange County school district, and the largest in the state, to win a waiver
from state bilingual education rules in the past two years.
Robie's ruling put at least a temporary stop
to the district's plans.
"It's a big surprise," said Neil
McKinnon, an assistant superintendent. "I'm really amazed. The courts
are taking over what the state board did."
McKinnon said he would follow the law but
warned that it could be difficult to return to the status quo.
"To say we have to go back just is not
going to be possible," he said. "We can go back in those few
classrooms where we still have bilingual teachers."
At Fairhaven Elementary School in Santa Ana--where
four of five students are Latino, and most of those speak little English--Principal
Phil Morse said he would scramble to do what he could. He now has only
three bilingual teachers, down from 11 in the previous school year.
"We're going to need some time to catch
our breath and strategize," said Morse, adding that he will have to
come up with something before Wednesday's staff meeting.
Attorneys for Orange Unified did not return
phone calls for comment Monday afternoon.
State schools chief Delaine Eastin and the
State Board of Education were also named as defendants in the suit. Neither
Eastin nor the board has taken a position on the lawsuit, said Joseph R.
Symkowick, general counsel for the state Department of Education. He had
no comment Monday on the judge's ruling.
The state board had already scheduled a meeting
for Wednesday to discuss the case.