Associated Press

Friday, October 9, 1998

State OKs Prop. 227 Rules on English-Only Instruction

SACRAMENTO -- In a victory for local school districts, the state Board of Education adopted new Proposition 227 rules yesterday that make it easier for parents to keep their children out of English-only classes.

The board rejected a staff-written plan on how to implement the ballot measure approved by voters in June aimed at eliminating bilingual education, deciding instead to leave such decisions up to the local districts. Part of the plan, for instance, specified that all books, work sheets and homework assignments should be in English.

"We wanted it as short and flexible as possible," said board President Yvonne Larsen of San Diego. "This is geared to allow the most flexibility and allow local school districts to be responsible to the needs of their parents."

The new rules, which are similar to emergency regulations adopted by the board in July, a month after the measure was approved, spell out for California's more than 1,000 school districts how they are to comply with the law. About 1.4 million of California's 5.5 million schoolchildren don't speak English.

Proposition 227, written by software millionaire Ron Unz, sought to eliminate bilingual education by requiring that children who can't speak English be put in one-year English immersion programs.

The law, which passed by an overwhelming majority but was opposed by Hispanics 2-to-1, says children can continue to get bilingual instruction but only if their parents apply for waivers under certain conditions.

The rules adopted yesterday state that such waivers "shall be granted" unless school officials decide that bilingual education classes would be more harmful than immersion.

"We feel it's a good balance to making it clear the school has the ability to determine what kinds of programs it can offer," said Theresa Garcia of the California School Boards Association. "At the same time, it gives parents plenty of leeway if they want their child in an alternative. It weighs heavily on the side of parental choice."

The school boards association, teachers unions and minorities all opposed Proposition 227.

A spokeswoman for Unz's group, English for the Children, criticized the board's action, saying the regulations assume that waivers should be granted in most cases, instead of limiting them to the special conditions spelled out in the initiative.

Proposition 227 said schools could grant waivers to parents if the child is at least 10 years old and has special physical, emotional, psychological and educational needs.

"They're placing a muzzle over the electorate's voice by suggesting that it's OK to return to the old ways," said spokeswoman Sheri Annis.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which opposed Proposition 227, wasn't happy with the new rules either. Spokeswoman Elena Soto-Chapa said the districts, rather than parents, have too much power to grant or deny waivers.

"We're still not happy with the fact that there is little parental control in the regulations," she said. "It gives the schools an overreaching authority to deny the parent the waiver if they seek it."

She noted that the rules don't require schools to have an appeals process.

"The way they are, it's really up to what the school feels like doing," she said. "We don't want the education policy that directly affects Latino limited-English-speaking students determined with that kind of whim."

Meanwhile, about 40 school districts have gone to court seeking waivers to exempt their entire districts from the new law. In August, an Alameda County judge ruled that the state board must consider such districtwide waiver requests, but the board is appealing that ruling.