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Bilingual Education Suffers Blow

November 5, 1997

ORANGE, Calif. (AP)_ In a move that could predict the future of bilingual education in this diverse state, voters in the conservative Orange County school district overwhelmingly approved the end of bilingual education.

The non-binding advisory vote Tuesday was a way to let board members know what voters thought of the school board’s decision to have all students in kindergarten through third grade learn in English for the current school year.

Eighty-six percent, or 14,354 of voters, approved the action, while 14 percent, or 2,249 voters, disapproved.

The vote comes amid increasingly heated discussions about the future of bilingual education in California and possibly across the nation. Tuesday’s vote was considered a gauge of public opinion on the divisive issue, which is likely to be put to a statewide vote next year.

The board’s move to replace bilingual education in the 29,000-student district with ``English immersion″ affected about 1,400 students _ most of them Hispanic _ who were in the bilingual program last year.

The district’s ``English immersion″ program has received state approval for one year, after which it must apply for permission again. But the program’s fate could also be decided by a pending lawsuit against it that hasn’t been set for trial yet.

Bilingual backers claimed the new program puts non-English speaking students at a disadvantage. Activists tried to woo Hispanic voters to the polls, but acknowledged the fact that Hispanics traditionally have low turnouts.

With all precincts reporting, voters also elected more conservative board members, increasing the majority to six of seven seats. There had been four conservatives on the board.

``The strongest conservative school board in California just got stronger,″ said Marty Jacobson, a former board president who held onto his seat.

With four seats of the seven-member board up for grabs, conservatives were worried they might lose their majority. Instead, they increased it by holding onto a conservative incumbent and adding new ones.

Jacobson, an accountant, won with 51 percent of the vote, and challenger Gisela Meier, a writer, followed closely with 49 percent.

Conservative Linda Davis, a community volunteer, edged incumbent Jim Fearns, a retired probation officer with 50.5 percent of the vote to his 49.5 percent.

In the only seat not targeted by an incumbent, land-use planner Terri Sargeant beat municipal manager William ``Bill″ G. Vasquez with 53 percent to Vasquez’s 47 percent.

Incumbent Rick Ledesma narrowly lost to bank executive and consultant Kathy Ward, who led the crowded field with 43 percent. Ledesma followed with 40 percent; employment development technician Bea Gonzales trailed with nearly 9 percent; and maintenance worker Robert L. Douglas, and merchandising planner and educator J. Carolan Smyth, III, each had 4 percent.

Nearly 20 percent of the 92,734 registered voters turned out for the Orange Unified School District elections.

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