Orange County Register

Friday, December 5, 1997

School Trustees Fault English-Only Drive
EDUCATION: A vote at a statewide convention expresses opposition to the proposed initiative.
By JOHN GITTELSOHN, The Orange County Register

ANAHEIM A convention of California school board members approved a resolution Thursday opposing a prospective ballot initiative that would require all schools to teach only in English.

The California School Boards Association, holding its annual convention with more than 2,000 delegates here this week, opposes the initiative called English for the Children because it would deprive districts of local control, association President Juanita Haugen said.

``We know programs need to be improved, but ... there are also programs out there that are working well,'' Haugen said. ``In (Orange County) people are supporting the initiative, but I don't think they realize the implications of it.''

Ron Unz, the Silicon Valley multimillionaire co-sponsoring the initiative campaign with Santa Ana teacher Gloria Matta Tuchman, said he was not discouraged by the vote, which follows resolutions by teacher unions and other education groups against the plan.

``I expect it to get on the ballot and I expect it to win,'' Unz said at Thursday's luncheon debate before about 100 school board members.

Unz's initiative would require all schools to teach only in English. Limited-English students would be taught for a year in segregated classes that immerse them in grammar and vocabulary. The students would be merged into English-only classes after that.

Nearly one-fourth of California's 5.6 million public school students speak limited English. About one-third of those students are taught in Spanish or another language at least part time. Last year in Orange County, 13 percent of limited-English students studied in Spanish, the only language of instruction other than English used here.

Several school board members from across California peppered Unz with critical questions, accusing him of trying to substitute one flawed program for another.

``The only reason you're doing this is you want to use the backs of our children to run for governor,'' Manuel Nunez, a Fresno Unified school board member told Unz, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1994.

Unz said people are increasingly attacking him rather than his initiative because current bilingual programs are indefensible. Convention delegates passed the resolution against the initiative on a voice vote, but not everyone opposed it.

``Ron Unz is our hero,'' said Rosemarie Avila, a Santa Ana Unified school board member. ``He's going to take away the claw of the state that forces us to teach in Spanish.''

The bilingual initiative was the only political issue on the convention agenda. Most of the convention is devoted to workshops on topics such as textbook adoption, school budgeting and curriculum reform.

Unz's campaign submitted more than 700,000 signatures to the Secretary of State's Office last month. He needs 433,000 valid signatures to qualify it for the June ballot.