Notes from the Banana Republic of Santa Ana

Photo by Jack GouldIn a 1995 interview, Rosemarie Avila told a Los Angeles Times reporter, “If you don't teach people freedom and limited government, you've lost your country and what people came here for.”

Seems about right for Avila. Now president of the Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD), Avila has consistently opposed government involvement in public schools throughout her 12-years-and-counting tenure. She's voted against such government-funded programs as after-school activities for students, free lunches for needy kids and school-based health clinics. She continues to propose that vouchers be made available to parents who want to send their children to private schools.

It's all about choice with Avila—unless choice leads parents and school kids into programs that don't fit the conservative politics of la presidenta.

Consider bilingual education. At the moment, parents can simply direct teachers to place their children in bilingual education classes. If Avila has her way, those days are over. At the school board's July 23 meeting, she offered a proposal to limit such dangerous freedom.

Item 8.0 on the agenda proposed that parents who want their children to take bilingual-education classes must appeal first to unelected district officials and then to Superintendent Al Mijares—an Avila ally and the top district bureaucrat. The final choice would be made not by parents themselves or teachers who know their students best, in other words, but by these distant district officials overseen by the anti-bilingual Avila.

Throughout her long tenure, Avila has been bilingual education's fiercest—frequently only—board critic. She voted against efforts by the SAUSD to apply for millions in federal bilingual education grants; opposed the hiring of 10 teachers from Spain in 1995; and during the 1996 presidential campaign hosted a Pat Buchanan appearance at Greenville Fundamental Elementary School, inviting Buchanan to preach the virtues of English-only schools.

Activists at the July 23 meeting noted that SAUSD officials had excluded parents from discussion of Item 8.0. Avila agreed to shelve the vote for a future meeting. Whether she allows parents to decide the measure's fate is yet to be determined.


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