ROSEMEAD — Entering the political fray over attempts to make English the state's official language, the Garvey School District's board of trustees has passed a strongly worded resolution denouncing these efforts as ineffective, divisive and dangerous.
The resolution, which the board approved by a 4-1 vote, urged defeat of an "official English" initiative measure on the November ballot, arguing that the measure would "not help anyone to learn English, nor will it improve community relations. It will create inter-group tension, resentment and bigotry."
The resolution also condemned "reprehensible resolutions and actions by cities that would institutionalize discrimination against language minority groups," in reference to a resolution passed in June by the Monterey Park City Council in support of legislation to make English the nation's official language.
If passed, the state initiative would require the Legislature "to ensure that the role of English as the common language of the state is preserved and enhanced." It also prevents the state from passing a law that "diminishes or ignores the role of English as a common language."
Devastating Effect Feared
Board members said that they feared that passage of the initiative would be devastating to students who depend on bilingual education programs.
Of the 7,200 students from Rosemead, San Gabriel and Monterey Park who attend the district's schools, 60% are Latino and 30% are Asian.
In addition, the trustees said passage of the measure could portend a shift toward racial intolerance.
"I think it's important to stop it here," Trustee Judy Chu said. "It may sound innocuous, but I think the Monterey Park City Council and California are test cases. If it happens here, there will be more."
Harsh Words Exchanged
The board's criticism of the official-English movement was countered with equally harsh words by proponents of the initiative, including Frank Arcuri, who initiated an "English-only" issue in Monterey Park.
Arcuri said he would seek to remove board members who voted for the resolution.
"The people of California want English to be our official language because we don't want a bilingual culture," Arcuri said.
"You're an elected body and you're answerable to the people," he continued. "Whoever votes against official English tonight will answer to me at the next election."
Board member Robert Miranda responded angrily to Arcuri's statement by moving for approval of the resolution.
"I think this whole initiative is taking on minorities, it's racial," Miranda said. "I bitterly oppose it, and I'm open to recall if they want it because we can't have this kind of stuff."
In addition to harming bilingual education, Miranda said, the initiative could make it illegal for teachers and other school district personnel to confer with parents who do not speak English.
Chu warned that the provision empowering anyone to sue the state for violating the official-English law could have the district "up to our ears in expensive litigation."
Arcuri said that the board members were presenting a distorted view of the initiative in order to protect state funding for bilingual education programs.
"They twist it--they say it's racist and bigoted," Arcuri said. "These people have their own political agenda. They have a stake in maintaining a bilingual school system."
Miranda and the two other Latino trustees, Virginia Guiterrez and board President Gilbert Barron, said that their opposition to the initiative was based in part on language discrimination they had encountered as schoolchildren.
"We were not allowed to speak Spanish," Guiterrez said. "I went through the experience of watching other students receive corporal punishment for breaking the rule. . . . It's very degrading to hear as a small child that what your parents taught you is not important."
Jim Smith, the only trustee to vote against the district's resolution, said that he agreed with the board's stance against the official-English initiative, but could not go along with its condemnation of "the
Monterey Park City Council resolution and all such resolutions in California."
"I cannot agree with this blanket statement," Smith said. "I suggest we read material prior to condemning it."
Smith added that he agreed with the philosophy behind the official-English initiative, but was bothered by the provision permitting lawsuits against the state to enforce the measure.
"It's too confusing when they start talking about suing people," Smith said.
Not a Simple Matter
"If it was something as simple as saying English is the official language of California the way we already have an official flower or official bird, I could support that," he said.
Besides supporting official-English legislation, the resolution passed June 3 by the Monterey Park City Council opposed the "sanctuary movement," in which cities provide haven to illegal aliens from Central America who say they are political or economic refugees.
It also calls for stricter controls on immigration and increased cooperation between the city's police and agents of the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Monterey Park City Councilman Barry Hatch, the resolution's author, said that the Garvey School District board is out of touch with its constituents in its opposition to the official-English movement.
"The fact is that the initiative is going to be passed by 80% of the electorate, so these people who are screaming now don't represent anybody but themselves," Hatch said. "The majority of the people don't listen to these radicals.
"The final statement is made in the voting booth. Maybe that school board will be replaced next year. They've gone out on a limb. Now, let's see if that limb's going to be cut off."