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June 98

Voters Pass English-Only Initiative

Voters recently endorsed the ballot initiative Proposition 227, and approved a ban on California's current bilingual education program in favor of a one-year total English immersion system. The initiative adds English Language Education for Immigrant Children, Section 300 to the Education Code.

Legal Requirements

Proposition 227 requires all public instruction to be conducted in English. The requirement may be waived if a parent or guardian shows that a child already knows English, or has special needs, or world learn English faster through alternative instructional techniques. The initiative provides for sheltered English immersion programs for a period not to exceed one year or children not fluent in English. Parents must be provided annually with information that they can waive the English-only requirement in which case children may be transferred to classes where they are taught English and other subjects through bilingual education techniques. Schools where 20 pupils or more request a waiver of the English-only requirement must be offered a bilingual education class. (Educ. Code §§ 310-311.)

Attorney's Fees

One of the most significant aspects of the initiative is the enforcement provision that provides parents with legal standing to sue, and if successful be awarded attorney's fees and monetary damages. Any school board member or public school teacher or administrator who refuses to implement the statute may be held personally liable for attorney's fees and damages. (Educ. Code § 320.)

State Board of Education

The State Board of Education has begun working on regulations to implement the measure. The initiative gives school districts just 60 days after the election to replace programs using native-language instruction with one year of "English immersion." (Educ. Code § 330.) The State Board will meet weekly until the guidelines are drafted. Marion Joseph, Board Member proposed that the board approve any policy memo to local districts. This was unanimously approved over objections from State Superintendent Delaine Eastin who said, "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."

Opponents of Proposition 227 have already filed a class-action suit blocking its implementation in federal district court. A hearing is scheduled for July 15 in San Francisco. The California Teachers Association urged its members to comply with the initiative's provisions until the legal challenges are decided, and said that it may assist initiative opponents in their lawsuit.

Comment: The bilingual issue has exacerbated the ongoing tensions between the elected State Superintendent and the appointed Governing Board over their respective roles and duties. Eastin and her staff are already in disagreement with the State Board over who has the authority to make decisions about the Department of Education's position on litigation matters. A lawsuit about this is currently pending between the parties in Sacramento Superior Court (Case No. 97CS02991).

English Language Education for Immigrant Children, Proposition 227, passed by the voters on June 2, 1998, adding Education Code §§ 300 - 340.

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