The Santa Ana 6,000

Photo by Jack GouldBilingual education in Santa Ana is dying quickly, but not quickly enough for school board president Rosemarie Avila. Since 1998, the year California voters passed anti-bilingual Proposition 227, Santa Ana school officials have effectively gutted the program—from 30,000 students five years ago to just 6,000 today. The prognosis is terminal: officials figure the bilingual program will be dead within the decade.

Avila says it ain't soon enough. She proposes retesting each of the 6,000 remaining students immediately and then allowing schools superintendent—and political ally—Al Mijares to make the final decision on whether the kids stay in bilingual education.

Avila already got her way earlier this month when trustees voted to curb the authority of parents, teachers and administrators to enroll kids in bilingual classes. Under new provisions authored by Avila, it's Mijares' call and students will be tested annually for language readiness.

But Avila says those new provisions don't go far enough, fast enough: a grandfather clause allows the program's current 6,000 students to continue through the new school year before they face their first annual test. Avila wants them tested now.

She made that proposal at an Aug. 12 school board meeting. It found few supporters. Even Mijares' handpicked Blue Ribbon Commission recommended grandfathering the 6,000 for this year. Howard Bryan, the district's bilingual program boss, noted that the commission introduced the grandfather clause because parents were assured just a couple of months back that their children would be in bilingual-ed classes for the upcoming year.

SAUSD attorney Tim Cary told the Aug. 12 meeting that Avila's plan to retest the 6,000 kids would be unfair—that telling parents one thing and then doing the opposite soon after would be “extreme” and a “violation of due process,” and that “Most Americans will say, 'It's not fair.'”

But Avila summarily dismissed such criticism. At one point, she even whipped out a dictionary and lectured Cary on Merriam-Webster's definitions of “special” and “need” and boasted that virtually none of the 6,000 kids would qualify for bilingual education if they had to face Mijares.

Avila's insistence on eliminating the grandfather clause turned most of the usually lock-step board members against her. Close friend Rob Richardson supported the elimination of the grandfather clause, but trustee Audrey Yamagata-Noji sided with Cary and the issue disappeared without action. Later, board members John Palacio and Sal Tinajero refused to answer when Avila attempted a roll-call vote asking each trustee to state whether he or she supported buying new Spanish textbooks. Even Mijares—who backs Avila on most matters—vocally disagreed with Avila's plan to provide cheaper, outdated textbooks for bilingual-ed schoolchildren. “It's only fair to provide students with the best material,” the superintendent calmly stated while he threw Avila a glance that might reasonably be classified as an assault.

Despite Avila's protests, the new bilingual education policy took effect last week—grandfather clause intact. But be warned, kids: recent SAUSD history shows that Avila will battle vigorously to change that which she does not support—and to undermine what she can't change. She was an architect of the recall of ex-trustee Nativo Lopez; she led the radical overhaul of the bilingual-ed program; and you just know she'll be back to fight the grandfather clause.

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