Associated Press

Wednesday, July 29, 1998

Bilingual Education Schools May Sneak Past Prop. 227

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A little-known aspect of state education law may allow districts to set up alternative schools for bilingual education, circumventing the sweeping ban imposed by Proposition 227.

Requests from two Orange County districts for such schools already have landed on the desk of state Superintendent Delaine Eastin, who has the authority to waive the ban and most other state education laws on a case-by-case basis for ``alternative'' and ``magnet'' schools.

``We are ready to move into the next stage, the decision-making stage. The precedent is about to be set,'' Lynn Hartzler, an Education Department official who has examined the requests, said Tuesday.

The language of the initiative, which has forced sweeping changes in California's schools, did not limit the state's authority to exempt alternative schools, Hartzler noted.

``Since 1976 when the (alternative schools) law was enacted, there has always existed a provision for waiving virtually any section of the state education code and regulations,'' Hartzler said. ``Some school districts have understood that and are moving to convert or create new alternative schools for second-language learning purposes.''

Proposition 227's campaign spokeswoman, Sheri Annis, said her group believes any waivers to other than charter schools would be illegal.

``If she's talking about granting a waiver for one program, she can certainly undercut the whole initiative,'' Annis said. ``If in fact this provision exists, for Delaine Eastin to simply override a law, she should tread lightly. Because I think most Californians will be outraged by such arrogance.''

Proposition 227, which passed in June, essentially dismantles bilingual education in California's public schools. It was sponsored by Silicon Valley software executive Ron Unz. A federal judge upheld the law, making it effective for school semesters starting after Sunday, when existing bilingual programs must be replaced by ``English immersion'' classes.

Hartzler wouldn't predict how Eastin will act on the requests by the Capistrano and Saddleback Valley districts to get waivers for their ``dual immersion'' programs. The schools would include English and Spanish speakers. Each group would be taught some core subjects in the new language they were learning.

But Doreen Lohnes, who is pursuing the request for Capistrano, said every state official she's worked with has been positive.

``I'm not advocating this as a way to skirt Unz,'' Lohnes said. ``It's not an effort to skirt 227 at all because it's not a program offered generically for everybody -- it's for those parents who wish to involve themselves in it.''

The school in Las Palmas would enroll 324 children -- a small fraction of the 5,100 children in the Capistrano district who have limited English proficiency. The Saddleback Valley school, in Lake Forest, would enroll 334, said Gloria Roelen, who coordinates second-language programs there.

``We're not talking about massive floodgates,'' Lohnes added. ``There are only 20 dual language immersion programs in the state that could do this.''

Among those programs are four in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties: San Jose Unified's River Glen School, a program at Mountain View's Castro School, Palo Alto's Escondido School and Adelante School in Redwood City.