Anti-Bilingualism Initiative to Be Voted on by L.A. Union: `English for the Children' Will Likely Be on June Ballot

Article excerpt

LOS ANGELES - One of California's largest teachers unions is being forced to vote on whether to endorse a ballot measure that calls for all students to be taught in English unless parents request otherwise. The measure, "English for the Children," reverses the current system of placing children with Hispanic surnames in Spanish language classes unless parents request English. State Republicans recently endorsed the ballot initiative against the wishes of party leaders.

Doug Lasken, a fifth-grade teacher, gathered signatures requiring the 35,000-member United Teachers of Los Angeles, a Democratic Party stronghold, to vote on the initiative within 30 to 60 days.

"I hope our union leaders don't try to block our English education streamroller and find themselves flattened, just like the Republican Party were at their own convention," he said.

"I expect it to carry," Mr. Lasken said. "We rank-and-file teachers see American-born Latino kids graduate elementary school who can't read or write English and that's a tragedy that has to be stopped."

More than 1.2 million California students, including 400,000 in Los Angeles, are classified as not proficient in English. Supporters say the measure has gathered more than 400,000 of the 433,000 signatures it needs to qualify for the June 1998 ballot.

Republican leaders have opposed the measure, fearing that it would be perceived as a "third strike" of anti-Hispanic sentiment in the wake of passage of Proposition 187, the anti-immigation initiative, and Proposition 209, which ended affirmative action in state employment and collage admissions. But in a voice vote at the convention in Anaheim last week, members of the state Republican Party voted to endorse the measure, dealing a blow to party leaders, including state Attorney General Dan Lungren.

Day Higuchi, president of United Teachers of Los Angeles, told The Washington Times that his union's official policy is to support the current transitional model of bilingual education.

Mr. Higuchi has not polled his members on the initiative, but said that "as in every other arena, our membership reflects views of the general populace in Southern California. …