Sacramento Bee

Saturday, September 12, 1998

State School Board Delays Vote on Bilingual Waivers
By JANINE DeFAO, Bee Staff Writer

After hearing from five school districts seeking waivers to the anti-bilingual education Proposition 227, the state Board of Education voted unanimously Friday to postpone action on the requests pending an appellate court ruling.

Lawyers for three Bay Area districts, which took the state board to court last month, immediately said the board was in contempt of an Alameda County Superior Court judge's ruling that the board must consider such waivers.

"They're in violation of a court order," said attorney Celia Ruiz, who represents Berkeley, Oakland and Hayward school districts. "We're going to go back to Superior Court as soon as possible," probably the middle of next week.

But state board attorney Rae Belisle said the board cannot be held in contempt because it does not yet have a written judgment from Judge Henry E. Needham. Once that judgment is received, the board will appeal it to the 1st District Court of Appeal. The board made that decision Thursday.

"There is a need to have a statewide court take a look at (an) issue . . . of this importance," Belisle said.

Proposition 227, approved by 61 percent of the voters in June, virtually ends bilingual education in favor of programs in which children not fluent in English are taught "overwhelmingly" in that language. The initiative allows waivers in limited cases, but only those requested by parents, not school districts.

But Needham ruled last month that Proposition 227 does not supersede general waiver authority granted to the state board in the state education code.

The board was scheduled Friday to hear waiver requests from 16 districts, but all but five withdrew their requests. Forty districts have asked for such waivers, but not all were on this month's agenda.

Marlin Foxworth, superintendent of Hayward Unified, said he had expected the board might not act on his district's waiver request Friday.

"Nonetheless, I had hoped ... they would respond to the educational issues rather than the legal issues," he said.

Foxworth and officials of other districts argued that their bilingual programs have the support of parents and have been successful in teaching children English and other academic subjects.

"I cannot believe such a withdrawal of a program that works was the intent of the proposition's author or those who voted for it," he told the board.

Parents and school officials from Palo Alto Unified made a pitch for their "dual-immersion" program in which Spanish- and English-speaking children are taught together with the goal of learning both languages. They said the initiative's requirement that limited-English speakers spend at least 30 days in an English-only classroom before parents can request an alternate program is a needless delay.

Last week, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin granted "alternative" school status to two Orange County schools for their dual-immersion programs. That status can be granted if a school meets certain requirements, including approval of their local school boards and parents and total voluntary participation, said spokesman Doug Stone.

Twenty other schools are seeking the alternative classification for dual-immersion programs, Stone said.

In addition, the state board granted waivers Friday for five charter schools with dual-immersion programs. Executive director Bill Lucia said under current law, the merits of charter school applications are decided by local school boards and the state board merely assigns numbers to them.