Saturday, March 14, 1998
Leece Pushes for Shift to English-only
Trustee's statement follows state Board of Education decision
abolishing mandatory bilingual program.
By HUSEIN MASHNI
NEWPORT-MESA -- Now that the state Board of Education has done away
with mandatory bilingual education programs in public schools, one Newport-Mesa
school official said she plans to propose an English-only policy for the
Other Newport-Mesa officials
gave mixed reactions to the state board's decision Thursday giving school
districts the power to waive the bilingual education mandate without petitioning
"Thousands of kids
held hostage in bilingual programs now have the opportunity to be set free,"
said Newport-Mesa school board member Wendy Leece, who believes the district
should adopt an English-only policy. "Now it is our moral duty to
put this on the front burner -- this is more important than finding a superintendent
or deferred maintenance issues." Board member Serena Stokes said she,
too, is pleased with the state's decision.
"I'm glad to see it's
going back to local control," she said. "That's the way it should
have been." Stokes, who used to be a principal at a Santa Ana school
with a large limited-English student population, said there should also
be a moratorium on the length of time a student is allowed to stay in a
"Parents and students
should be placed on notice that the program has a limit, and they need
to learn English," she said. "They should only be allowed to
stay in a program for a year or a year and a half." If students don't
have a firm grasp of the English language by the third grade, Stokes said
it's very difficult to bring them up to speed for the rest of their time
in elementary school.
Students who have been in
the district since first grade should have completed the transition from
bilingual into English-only classrooms by the middle of the second grade,
Leece hailed the board's
decision as the work of God.
"It's like the parting
of the Red Sea and the walls of Jericho coming down on the same day,"
she said. "Prayer works." Leece went so far as to say the district
should encourage all school employees to use only English on school grounds.
"It's not going to
be an overnight thing; it's an attitude shift," she said. "If
we all focus on English like we focus on phonics, great things would happen."
Board member Dana Black said the district already has English-only schools,
but there are times when students with very-limited-English skills need
to use their native language to communicate with others.
"The [state] board's
move doesn't mean that English-only is mandated, either," Black said.
"We've already addressed these issues in our schools. Principals and
teachers are already speaking with the children in English." The problem
with the state-mandated bilingual programs is that it's too difficult for
students to qualify to leave them, some school officials said.
"To be reclassified
[from bilingual to English-only] they have to pass through a lot of hurdles,"
said Ken Killian, principal of Rea Fifth and Sixth Grade Center, which
has a very high limited-English student population.
"A lot of the kids
can pass the oral English tests, but they have a real hard time with the
standardized English tests." Stokes suggested the district offer alternatives
for parents who want English-immersion programs rather than bilingual programs
for their children.
"I think parents would
be happy with that because their goal is to have their children learn English,"
she said. "We have plenty of time, until September, to plan for good
programs in the fall."