Sacramento Bee

Saturday, June 13, 1998

Bilingual Issue Sparks Clash at State Board
Eastin: 'You will not muzzle this superintendent.'
By JANINE DeFAO, Bee Staff Writer

While voters overwhelmingly approved an end to bilingual education earlier this month, Proposition 227 continued to spark impassioned debate Friday at the California State Board of Education.

At its first meeting since 61 percent of voters passed the initiative June 2, the state board agreed to start meeting weekly, beginning the week of June 22, to draw up implementation measures for local school districts. The initiative gave districts a mere 60 days after the election to replace programs using native language instruction with one year of "English immersion."

Already, opponents of Proposition 227 have filed a class-action suit to block its implementation. This week, the coalition of civil rights groups filed a request for an injunction and a hearing was scheduled for July 15 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

But state board members and Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin clashed Friday over who could give interim guidance to local educators, many of whom have complained that the initiative is ambiguous and fails to address important details of how to educate the state's 1.4 million children not fluent in English.

"The communication (to districts) can only come from the board as we go forward," said board member Janet Nicholas, who was joined by fellow members in expressing the importance that districts receive a single, clear message from the state level. Board member Marion Joseph proposed that the board approve any policy memo to local districts.

Eastin, who was being represented at the meeting by one of her deputies, soon stormed into the room and braced herself against the public lectern.

"You will not muzzle this superintendent," chided Eastin, who said she was in another meeting but was following the board meeting on closed-circuit television. "Yours is a policy role. ... I administer the department, I execute the law, and when and if you tell me to do something that is illegal and unconstitutional, I won't do it."

"I will work collaboratively with this board, but I will not be clearing any memo I send to the field with this board. End of discussion," Eastin said.

The board then unanimously approved Joseph's motion for oversight on policy memos to the field.

The exchange spotlighted ongoing tensions between the publicly elected superintendent, a Democrat, and the state board appointed by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson.

Already, Eastin and the board are in disagreement over the meaning of a February court ruling on bilingual education. While the board contends the ruling negated state law on bilingual education -- leaving only federal law in place in California -- Eastin and her staff have disagreed.

After the ruling, the board rescinded a long-standing policy that had required school districts to seek waivers if they wanted to implement an approach other than bilingual education for limited-English students. The board said it no longer had the authority to grant waivers.

But educators and parents from five California school districts Friday said they disagreed and asked the board for waivers from Proposition 227 so they can continue their bilingual programs. No action was taken.

Earlier in the meeting, Sonia Hernandez, deputy state superintendent for curriculum and instruction, told the board that many questions about the initiative remain. Among them are what an English-immersion program will look like, how much of a child's primary language can be used, and what the definition is of "good working knowledge of English," the point at which the initiative says limited-English students will be transferred into mainstream classrooms.