Sacramento Bee

Thursday, June 25, 1998

Hold Your Fire, Prop. 227 Backers Tell Court
By CLAIRE COOPER, Bee Legal Affairs Writer

SAN FRANCISCO -- Defenders of California's anti-bilingual education initiative told a federal judge Wednesday that the law shouldn't be blocked because it may turn out to be a good thing -- or, at least, a legal one -- for students not fluent in English.

Responding to an injunction request that was filed the day after voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 227 on the June 2 ballot, the state Board of Education said adoption of appropriate regulations could bring the initiative in line with federal anti-bias laws.

Until those rules are laid down, said the board, it's impossible to decide the legality of the initiative's plan for replacing bilingual education with a one-year program of intensive English instruction.

The board's position was stated in a document prepared by the Pacific Legal Foundation and filed with U.S. District Judge Charles A. Legge in San Francisco. A hearing on the preliminary injunction motion is set for July 15.

The order to block the measure from going into effect was requested by a coalition of civil rights groups, which argued that Proposition 227 would segregate 1.4 million students with limited English skills into classes where they could not hope to learn enough English and would be deprived of math, history and all other subjects.

The school board denied that a one-year program would be inadequate for most students to become fluent in English. It said the implementing regulations could assure that each child's needs were met.

"Sequential" instruction -- first in English and then in other subjects -- would not deprive students of their federal legal rights, the board said.

In addition to the state school board and its members, Gov. Pete Wilson and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin were named as defendants in the civil rights suit.

In the response Eastin filed Wednesday, she, too, opposed the injunction request as premature. However, she raised concerns about its Aug. 2 effective date.

Unless the board gives temporary waivers to local school districts that need more time to prepare teachers, classrooms, curricula and materials for their English immersion programs, she said, she may support a court-ordered postponement.

Eastin opposed the initiative before the voters approved it but then vowed to carry out the voters' wishes. In the document she filed in federal court, she said the board "and the 1,000 local school districts must have an opportunity to issue implementing policies, regulations and waivers that will allow the initiative to operate in a flexible and legal manner."

Her formal opposition document was prepared by her legal staff.

Wilson's document said English immersion won't be a "one size fits all" regimen, as the civil rights groups contend, but will be flexible in its goals and varied in its methods. It urged the court to postpone judgment until after the state issues implementing regulations and the school districts unveil their Proposition 227 programs.