Bilingual Education, Race to Collide in California Recall

Article excerpt

Byline: Valerie Richardson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

California voters are bracing for a showdown over bilingual education next week between a Silicon Valley millionaire and a Hispanic activist described as the Al Sharpton of Orange County.

The nation's foremost critic of bilingual education, millionaire Ron Unz, pushed for and got a recall election to oust Nativo Lopez, a Santa Ana school board member. Mr. Unz accuses Mr. Lopez of undermining efforts to teach in English by pressuring Hispanic families to keep their children in bilingual classes.

The Feb. 4 special election carries unusual significance because it takes place in Santa Ana, the city with the strongest concentration of Spanish speakers in the nation. About 74 percent of the Orange County community's residents speak Spanish, and nearly 84 percent speak a language other than English, according to 2000 Census Bureau figures.

Mr. Unz said that if Santa Ana voters reject Mr. Lopez because of his heavy-handed opposition to English immersion, it will send a message to other school districts trying to skirt the dictates of Proposition 227, the 1998 anti-bilingual education initiative.

Under Proposition 227, limited-English students may receive a year of bilingual education before being placed in mainstream English-speaking classrooms, unless their parents request waivers to keep them in bilingual classes. Such waivers are rare in most school districts, but they're common in Santa Ana, which had 6,726 children on waivers in October, more than 80 percent of the county's total.

"Santa Ana is the fifth largest school district in California, and it's been the most blatant in its disregard for 227," Mr. Unz said. "If the most heavily Spanish-speaking city in California recalls its biggest supporter of bilingual education, then it sends a very powerful message about where Latinos stand on bilingual education."

The election also has gained notice for its contentiousness.

Mr. Unz calls Mr. Lopez "a crook" whose followers harassed those gathering signatures for the special election. Mr. Lopez says Mr. …