Los Angeles Times
Sunday, June 7, 1998
Union Tells Teachers in State to Obey Prop. 227
Education: But leader says the group will defend instructors
whom parents sue for not using enough English. The curbs on bilingual education
are set to take effect by fall.
By RICHARD LEE COLVIN, Times Education Writer
The president of the California Teachers Assn. on Saturday urged the
group's 280,000 members to teach according to the provisions of Proposition
227, the controversial anti-bilingual education initiative passed by voters
But union officials also made it clear that
teachers who are sued under the terms of the proposition for "curricular
malpractice"--meaning that they fail to use enough English in the
classroom--will be aggressively defended by the union in court.
To a Los Angeles ballroom full of the union's
local leaders, CTA President Lois Tinson bemoaned the victory of Proposition
227, which the union spent more than $600,000 trying to defeat.
But, she told the union's State Council,
"I count on you to be sure teachers know they must comply with the
The initiative, which seeks to end 30 years
of teaching children in their native languages, is scheduled to take effect
by this fall. California voters overwhelmingly approved the measure, which
has divided the state's teachers.
Proposition opponents filed a lawsuit last
week alleging that the measure violates the civil rights of students with
limited English skills. No hearing date has been set in the lawsuit or
on opponents' request for a preliminary injunction to block the initiative's
Tinson said Saturday that the union, which
represents a majority of the state's teachers, may assist the proposition's
opponents in the suit.
Later this week, the State Board of Education
is expected to begin working on regulations aimed at defining such provisions
as teaching "overwhelmingly" in English.
But even after those rules are established,
education officials acknowledge, change will not occur without the cooperation
of local boards of education, school administrators and teachers--most
of whom fought against the proposition. In the wake of the measure's passage,
a group of 1,500 pro-bilingual teachers in Los Angeles County said they
may deliberately disobey the law.
To encourage teachers to cooperate, authors
of the initiative specified that parents may sue educators who "willfully
and repeatedly" refuse to carry it out.
Further, teachers can be forced to pay the legal expenses of the parents,
should the parents prevail in court.
That provision in particular worries teachers,
who fear that a disgruntled parent could target them just for following
a school district's policy.
"Putting that in there makes it seem
like a parent has the responsibility to go and sit in a classroom and monitor
what's going on," said CTA chief counsel Beverly Tucker. "You
are deputizing an army of parents to enforce the proposition."
About 1.4 million of California's 5.6 million
schoolchildren are still learning to speak English. About a third of them
are taught using their primary language to build conceptual knowledge in
subjects such as math and history while trying to move them toward fluency
in English. But some youngsters become stuck in such bilingual classes
and never develop the linguistic skills needed to succeed academically.
The proposition requires that most of those
children take a one-year intensive class in English before moving into
Tucker said teachers in districts that have vowed not to comply with the
proposition, such as San Francisco's, will be especially vulnerable.
"The teachers are stuck," she
said. "They could be sued even though the teacher had nothing to do
with the decision" to resist the proposition's requirements.
Also placed in an awkward position are teachers
and administrators in districts in which the bilingual program is operating
according to a consent decree with the U.S. Education Department's Office
of Civil Rights.
Such decrees, which are in effect in Oakland,
Lodi and other cities, result from complaints in which it is alleged that
the rights of students not fluent in English have been violated under federal
law. The orders typically prescribe bilingual education as a remedy.
Changing their instructional program to
comply with Proposition 227 could cause those districts to lose federal
funding. But not changing the program "sets them up to be sued by
parents," Tucker said.
Sheri Annis, a spokeswoman for the Proposition
227 campaign, said she does not expect a flurry of lawsuits because most
teachers and school districts will follow the law.
But, she said, the provision granting parents
the right to sue was included specifically to "give teeth to the initiative."
Indeed, there's little the state can do
to force compliance not only with the new law against bilingual education
but with any other educational policy. The state periodically reviews whether
school districts are complying with various regulations and issues reports.
But there are no provisions for penalizing districts if they refuse to
follow instructional guidelines.
That's why the pro-Proposition 227 camp
tried something else.
"We don't intend to have Big Brother
out there watching every classroom, but if it's obvious that teachers and
administrators are . . . disobeying the law, then they will be subject
to a lawsuit," Annis said.
That has unnerved teachers and made the
proposition a hot topic at the union State Council's quarterly meeting
this weekend near Los Angeles International Airport.
"It's a very scary thing," said
Mikki Cichocki, a San Bernardino teacher who works with a bilingual aide
to instruct first-graders and kindergartners whose first language is Vietnamese
or another Asian tongue.
She said she feared that the potential for
lawsuits will make the state's teacher shortage even worse. "Who's
going to want to become a teacher when they know they can be held personally
liable for curricular malpractice?" she asked.
Ann Adler, a Garden Grove teacher who instructs
non-fluent children in English, also fretted over such uncertainties. "Is
it going to put restrictions on the way we have been teaching, where we
were allowed to show them various cultures?" she asked.
Tucker said she believed that merely speaking
a language other than English in class has not been outlawed. But she said
the law is so vague that it may take years of litigation to sort out what
The state Department of Education will issue
advisories interpreting the proposition. A spokesman said the department
will ask the Legislature to provide additional money for new books and
teacher training to comply with the law.
An article published in the newspaper of
United Teachers-Los Angeles, the union's local affiliate, summed up the
"We could face a time when teachers
look out upon a classroom of students and envision, instead of a set of
eager future scholars, a sea of potential courtroom adversaries."
During its meeting Saturday, the State Council
voted unanimously to endorse Lt. Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, for governor
in his race against Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren, a Republican. The state union
was neutral in the primary.
The group also endorsed Delaine Eastin for
state schools chief. She faces a runoff against Gloria Matta Tuchman, a
Santa Ana teacher who co-sponsored Proposition 227 and supports publicly
funded vouchers for children to use at private schools.