Salinas district joins lawsuit
Monterey Herald Salinas Bureau
Jun. 01, 2005

The statewide suit targets the federal No Child Left Behind Act

Acting on behalf of a large percentage of English-learning students, the Salinas Union High School District has added its name to a growing list of state districts opposed to federal academic performance standards.

The district's board of trustees voted 6-1 last week to join nine other school California school districts, including the Coachella Valley Unified school District, in a lawsuit against the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Longtime trustee Jim Reavis was the only no vote.

The lawsuit demands the state test school children whose first language is not English, and who are not yet proficient in English, in their native language. In the case of most Salinas schools, that would be Spanish.

"More than 80 percent of the students are Latino in the district," said Phillip Tabera, board president. "At least half of those students are English learners at various levels."

The lawsuit, anticipated to be filed today in San Francisco Superior Court, challenges California's testing of English learners based on the federal act.

A news conference is scheduled for later today in Los Angeles where representatives from the California Association of Bilingual Education, Californians Together and the California League of United Latin American Citizens will speak out in favor of the suit.

Tabera, along with board Vice President Kathryn Ramirez and Secretary Sandra Villareal-Ocampo, pushed the district to join the suit.

"We caught wind of it after the Alisal Union School District became a plaintiff in the lawsuit," Tabera said.

Alisal, which feeds into Salinas Union High School, was the first district in Monterey County to join the lawsuit. That district has an English-learning population of 69 percent, mostly Mexican-American children who speak Spanish as their first language.

In a district such as the Salinas Union High School District, English learners account for 37 percent, or a little more than 5,300 of the district's 13,000 students.

Tabera said the district hopes to get the federal government to look at other means of measuring student success. Currently, the state uses English-only standardized tests to measure student growth.

"Over the last four to five years, we've been able to measure some substantial growth with our students," Tabera said. "One of the things we've tried to advocate is for the feds (federal government) to look at a growth model as opposed to English-language test scores."

Tabera was optimistic that the district would rally behind the cause.

"It was really good to see that the majority of our board supported getting involved with our lawsuit."