July 17, 1998

Judge Refuses To Block Bilingual Education Measure

By Bob Egelko

SAN FRANCISCO - A federal judge refused on Wednesday to block a measure approved by state voters that bans bilingual education and requires all students to be taught in English.

Judge Charles Legge said the initiative, approved by 61 percent of voters June 2, did not discriminate against minorities or violate a federal law requiring schools to overcome students' language barriers.

Requiring students to learn English in English immersion classes ``is a valid educational theory,'' which is all that the federal law requires, Legge said after a three-hour hearing. He said it was beyond his authority to decide whether such classes was better than native-language instruction for teaching students English.

Proposition 227 is scheduled to take effect next month. The ruling can be appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Overturning 30 years of policies that allowed bilingual instruction, the initiative requires all public school classes to be ``overwhelmingly'' in English. Students who speak limited English are to be taught in separate English-only classes that normally would last no more than a year, although they can seek re-enrollment.

A lawsuit filed a day after the election contended Proposition 227 violated the federal Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974, which requires states to let educational agencies take ``appropriate action to overcome language barriers.''

``It would cause immediate and profound disruption of the education of students who can least afford such disruption,'' attorney Deborah Escobedo, of Multicultural Education, Training and Advocacy, told Legge.

But Senior Assistant Attorney General John Sugiyama, chief lawyer for the state, said English immersion was ``a well-established, well-accepted approach.''

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