Public interest advocacy groups including Multicultural Education, Training and Advocacy (META), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, the Asian Law Caucus, the Employment Law Center, and Public Advocates, announced today that they are filing a class action lawsuit in federal court to block implementation of Proposition 227.
The suit seeks to invalidate Proposition 227 on federal grounds and is being filed on behalf of parents of limited English proficient students, as well as local and statewide civil rights organizations, who oppose the attempt to end optional bilingual education programs and limit parents' choices for educational programs for their children. The suit argues that Proposition 227 violates the Equal Educational Opportunity Act of 1974 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as other federal laws guaranteeing the right of language minority students to appropriate language programs which ensure meaningful access to equal educational opportunity.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include the California Latino Civil Rights Network, Chinese for Affirmative Action, Mujeres Unidas y Activas (United and Active Women), Parents for Unity, and numerous parents of children currently enrolled in California's public schools. (The identities of the individual plaintiffs are being protected.) Named defendants include Governor Pete Wilson, the State Board of Education, and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Attorneys in the case hope to block the implementation of Proposition 227 before its provisions disrupt the programs currently offered to 1.4 million students identified as limited English proficient. Plaintiffs in this case are concerned that the English-only program mandated by Proposition 227, and the administrative havoc that implementing Proposition 227 will cause, will negatively affect all 5.6 million children in the state's public schools.
"Parents, including immigrant parents, should have the right to make basic choices about their children's education," said Deborah Escobedo, staff attorney with META." All children, including immigrant children, should have the right to learn academic English and have access to science, math and history. Proposition 227 takes away these basic rights. This suit seeks to defend these basic rights and to ensure that no child will be denied a meaningful education."
Speaking at the news conference held this morning in Los Angeles, ACLU Southern California staff attorney Rocio Cordoba said, "This ill conceived measure will rob school children of an equal education. Ron Unz must not be allowed to substitute his judgement for the judgement of individual school districts and educators who are working to meet the educational needs of their students. The challenge of educating children from diverse backgrounds and languages must not result in quick fix, one-size-fits all remedies which will trample the progress we are making."
Ed Chen, ACLU-NC staff attorney, said, "This initiative is unlike any other state law dealing with the needs of limited English proficient students. It prescribes a one-size-fits- all English-only model for 1.4 million students throughout California, in complete disregard for their individual needs and differences. Proposition 227 also overrules the educational expertise of local schools and school districts, which use a variety of programs including those which involve instruction in the students' primary languageto assure that students are able to make progress on academic subjects while learning English at the same time."
Christopher Ho, an attorney with the Employment Law Center, said, "Proposition 227 will segregate children who do not speak English and teach them that their primary language is worthless. It will deprive them of their only means to really communicate with their teachers, it will take away their parents' ability to participate in their children's education, and it will not give them access to the educational programs enjoyed by students who do speak English. It's pure and simple discrimination based on language and on national origin, and we want to stop this from going forward."
"Proposition 227 sets back public education in California by 25 years," commented Ted Wang of Chinese for Affirmative Action, which helped bring the original Lau v. Nichols case in 1973 "This proposition treats children who are not fluent in English as if they have a disease. They will be isolated from other children, placed in English immersion classes, and denied other academic programs. We just can't tolerate this." [Lau v. Nichols resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court mandate that language minority children must be provided access to programs which meet their specific language needs.]
"Proposition 227 violates the fundamental right of national origin minorities to participate on an equal basis in the political process of advocating for effective educational programs for their children," stated Joe Jaramillo, staff attorney for MALDEF. "This Proposition shuts off the basic means to advocate for or to change local educational programs designed to overcome students' language barriers. We're now forced to turn to the courts to vindicate the rights of parents and students to advocate for effective and appropriate education programs for limited English proficient children."
Juana Flores has two daughters enrolled in bilingual classes in San Francisco schools. Ms. Flores, speaking through an interpreter, said, "Although I do not speak English well I have been able to help my children with school. As parents, the more we are involved the more our children are going to see that education is important. If they take away bilingual education they are going to take away our communication with the teachers, and we will no longer feel welcome at the schools, nor will we be able to participate in the school community."
Maria Blanco, the Northern California Director of the California Latino Civil Rights Network, said, "As a Latino civil rights organization whose focus is to ensure equal opportunity for all of California's Latino school children, we deplore the passage of Proposition 227. This initiative is bad public policy, and it takes away educational choices from parents, from students and from local school districts. The effect of Proposition 227 is to deny limited English speakers equal access to learning."
"Proposition 227 risks this state's future with an unprecedented withdrawal of services deemed necessary for children's success by California's educators," said John Affeldt, Public Advocates' Managing Attorney. "This is no way to make policy, and it certainly is no way to treat our children."