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June 29, 2014
Editorial: A gold star for legislators on EpiPens and bilingual education

bilingual_education.JPG(June 29 - By the Editorial Board)

Assembly Education Committee members earned an "A" for outstanding accomplishment Wednesday by negotiating political obstacles to make the right moves on two important bills.

The first speeds along a bill that allow schools to stock epinephrine auto-injectors in case of allergic emergencies; the second applies the brakes gently on legislation that has a noble goal of promoting multilingualism, but does so by obliterating established school curriculum with no clear replacement plan.

An EpiPen in every school

The epinephrine auto-injector, known popularly by the brand name EpiPen, could not be easier to use: Break out this life-saving device in an allergic reaction emergency. Push it down firmly on the big muscle in the thigh until there's a click. Wait 10 seconds.

A spring-loaded injector delivers a pre-measured dose of epinephrine, and anaphylactic shock, possibly death, is averted.

Even a fool could operate it.

The state's two largest teachers unions must not think much of their membership. They seem to think that teachers - highly educated though they may be - aren't up to such a task.

We believe that anybody with a shred of compassion who sees a kid with suffering from a life-threatening allergic reaction would be glad to have an easy-to-use tool to keep him or her alive.

So far, California's legislators seem to agree. The California Senate already has given the bill by Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, the seal of approval.

At each turn, however, representatives from the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers have opposed the bill on what they characterize as "philosophical" grounds. Their philosophy seems to be that every school should have a nurse on duty, and any health-related responsibility passed on to teachers makes that argument harder to make.

Testimony from Anne Harty, a school nurse from Carmichael, didn't help either. At the hearing, she said she trained the teachers at her school to use EpiPens; every one chose to participate.

Why wouldn't they? There are no major side affects from the epinephrine, which is naturally occurring in the body.

The few teachers who don't feel comfortable wielding an auto-injector won't have to. Schools would only stock the injectors if they have volunteers willing to use them.

Repeal of Proposition 227

The committee didn't kill a bill to place on the 2016 ballot an amendment and partial repeal of Proposition 227, the polarizing 1998 initiative that banned bilingual education in California's public schools that still rankles many Latinos.

The bill by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, passed and the concept of undoing Proposition 227 was endorsed.

But it was a conditional support; Lara must address the issues raised during the hearing by members and representatives of teachers and school districts before it reaches the full assembly.

The "or else" was clearly implied.

That's good news. The Bee's editorial board last week appealed to legislators to press Lara on some of the more troubling aspects of Senate Bill 1174 during the hearing since we couldn't. Lara did not respond to our requests for an interview.

The biggest worry is what comes after. The bill would remove the requirement that students who aren't proficient in English complete a year of English-only immersion before being mainstreamed, but doesn't even suggest what should replace it.

Another concern, particularly for school districts: The requirement that if just 20 or more students in a grade at any school ask for a specific language class, they must be accommodated or be allowed transfer out.

Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, the chairwoman of the committee, noted that this would create what is effectively a new transfer policy.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, a former professor of Lara's, leveled the most biting criticism of the bill, that it seems to have three unconnected legislative goals - repealing Proposition 227, promoting "bi-literacy" and supporting local control funding formula.

"I see all these things kind of running around and bumping into each other, but don't seem to all go in the same direction," she said.

Lara should heed the words from his former prof and recraft his legislation into something that charts a better future - not just one that seeks to redress a past wrong.

When the undoing of Proposition 227 hits the ballot - and we have no doubt one will, be it in 2016 or beyond - it will revive the heated debate over bilingual education that characterized the campaign and left lingering bad feelings. A badly done repeal could make things worse for schools, teachers and students.