Calif. Awaits School Board's Action on Prop. 227 Waivers

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The California's state school board is to respond this week to a recent court order by considering requests from 18 districts to be exempted from the state's new restrictions on bilingual education.

The waivers are part of a legal odyssey that began June 2, when California voters passed Proposition 227, a ballot measure that requires schools, in most cases, to teach limited-English-proficient students mostly in English. ("Schools Gear Up as Bilingual Ed. Law Takes Effect," Aug. 5, 1998.)

"Board members must now look at each [waiver request] and decide if it's in the students' interest to follow the law at this time," said Michael E. Hersher, the general counsel for the state education department.

Waivers appear to be the only way around the measure for most California districts.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit last month refused to grant a preliminary injunction against the measure. The court, however, has yet to issue a final ruling in the case.

The same day, a federal district court judge in Los Angeles denied a move by civil rights groups to block the 681,000-student Los Angeles schools' plan to comply with the new law. The plaintiffs argued that the plan was too hastily constructed and would not meet students' needs.

But in a limited exception later in August, a federal judge ordered the 32,000-student San Jose schools to offer bilingual classes to Spanish-speaking students. The courses were required under federal anti-discrimination measures imposed on the district in 1994, the judge said.

Bilingual Win

Bilingual education proponents won a major victory Aug. 27 when Superior Court Judge Henry Needham of Alameda County ruled that the state school board must consider requests for waivers of Proposition 227's requirements.

The 11-member board, most of whom were appointed by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, had refused to review several initial waiver requests, arguing that it could not override voters' will.

That refusal prompted a lawsuit by the Berkeley, Hayward, and Oakland districts.

Since Judge Needham's ruling, 41 of California's 1,000 districts have submitted requests for waivers.

The board is scheduled to address 18 of the waivers and to decide if it will appeal the judge's ruling during its meeting Sept. 9-11.

"You'd think the state board would at least allow an orderly process, not one to be pushed in 60 days," said Mark Savage, the managing lawyer of Public Advocates, a public-interest law firm in San Francisco that has joined efforts to overturn Proposition 227.

Proponents of the measure hope that the board is not inclined to grant the waiver requests.

Some of the requests are short term and limited, while others are more general.

"We believe the practical effect will be limited since the board has said it doesn't want to grant waivers," said Sheri Annis, a spokeswoman for English for the Children, a Los Angeles-based group that promoted Proposition 227.

In a related development, Gov. Wilson late last month vetoed a bill that would have exempted those students with limited English skills from taking a new statewide basic-skills exam in grades 2-11.

Most of the state's 1.4 million limited-English-proficient students took the exam in English in July.

In general, their test scores lagged behind those of their English-speaking peers.

The bill that Mr. Wilson vetoed would have exempted LEP students with less than 30 months of English instruction from taking the test.

In his veto message, Mr. Wilson declared: "It is inappropriate to deny one class of individuals the opportunity to participate in the educational benefits of the test based solely on the individual's English-language proficiency."

Vol. 18, Issue 1, Page 33

Published in Print: September 9, 1998, as Calif. Awaits School Board's Action on Prop. 227 Waivers
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