Orange County Register

Wednesday, June 10, 1998

Santa Ana District Won't Commit to Prop. 227 Suit
EDUCATION: Though sympathetic to the cause, the school board decides it can't afford to join the fight.
By ELIZABETH CHEY, The Orange County Register

SANTA ANA -- Educators and most Santa Ana Unified School District board members vented their frustration Tuesday night at the passage of Proposition 227, but stopped short of agreeing to fight it in court.

Board President Nativo Lopez urged the district to join a lawsuit filed last Wednesday by two Hispanic rights groups -- the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and Multicultural Education, Training and Advocacy -- aiming to block Prop. 227.

"To the opponents of this initiative, I say: Do not give up the fight," Lopez said, reading from a prepared statement. "I personally encourage every legal means necessary to resist the implementation of Prop. 227."

Lopez also encouraged civil disobedience in the form of student strikes and teacher boycotts in the name of "an unjust law." He encouraged parents to protest, citing civic leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Thomas Jefferson. That met with applause from the audience of about 75 people.

But Lopez was met with words of caution from board member Audrey Yamagata-Noji, who advocated working within the law by granting waivers to parents. She also suggested creating bilingual charter schools.

"In our hearts we want to fight, but we don't have the money to launch a legal battle," said Yamagata-Noji, who marched with parents against the initiative before the election. "It would take precious dollars from schools, books and materials."

District Superintendent Al Mijares said lawsuits were best fought by the Hispanic rights groups, and said an amicus brief, or friend of the court filing, would cost the district about $10,000.

Prop. 227 requires all schoolchildren to be put in English-immersion classes within 60 days. The law would affect about half of the district's limited English students -- those currently being taught in their native language.

The suit, filed in San Francisco, contends that children will not be given equal access to academic subjects without native language instruction. It names Gov. Pete Wilson, the state Board of Education and Delaine Eastin as defendants.

"Their concerns are the same as our concerns," Mijares said of the suit. "They are going to test whether the law is fair, just and equitable. There's no reason for us to duplicate the effort."

Mijares suggested waiting on directives from the state Department of Education to answer questions like: How much is "overwhelmingly in English?" What if one year of English instruction isn't enough? Can bilingual aides still teach?

The state board will meet in Sacramento on Friday to discuss how to uphold Prop. 227. The board's executive director, Bill Lucia, said he will call for a loose interpretation of the law - possibly extending the one-year limit, exempting year-round schools from complying with the law this year and allowing some foreign language instruction to a limited degree.

Board member Rosemary Avila defended the voters -- who supported the initiative by 61 percent. She said a quick conversion to the English-immersion methods requires a couple of days of teacher training and placing all students into immersion classes. She blamed the district for holding on to old habits.

"It's difficult to change," said Avila,"because so many parents and children have been talked into believing that bilingual works."