Fresno Bee

Friday, November 20, 1998

Fresno Unified Grants 2,400 Prop. 227 Waivers
Most non-English speaking students will remain in bilingual classes
By GIGA HANNA, Bee Staff Writer

Fresno Unified School District has granted nearly 2,400 waivers to bilingual students opting out of the controversial English-only classes mandated by Proposition 227.

Another 800 waiver requests are being considered.

That means nearly all of the non-English speaking students in the district will still be in bilingual classes, despite the law that intended that all children under age 10 be taught overwhelmingly in English.

District officials grasped at the section of the initiative that allowed waivers when parents and school officials thought a child would be better served in bilingual classes. The district sent out letters in five languages, informing parents of the waiver process.

Fresno Unified has about 4,000 non-English speaking students who were in bilingual classes until the initiative passed. Those are the students targeted for waivers.

In an update to the Fresno Unified School Board on Thursday afternoon, district officials said 3,200 parents have applied for waivers since August, and Fresno Unified continues to urge others to apply.

"We are encouraging site administrators to do everything possible to talk to parents about getting a waiver for their child," said Rose Lee Patron, district director of multilingual and multicultural programs.

Students with more English proficiency will receive "sheltered immersion" -- daily English Language Development instruction that includes listening, speaking, reading and writing mostly in English, with native-language support and materials. There are 26,000 students with limited-English proficiency in the 80,000-student district.

Parents must apply for the waiver each school year, and children are only eligible after they've spent 30 days in a sheltered- immersion class.

"Our real challenge is offering educational materials so they develop capabilities and competency," Patron said.

Officials said Thursday that they were surprised only 45 people opted to take their child out of any type of specialized English instruction, instead choosing mainstream classes.

"It's an extremely small number," said Tino Noriega, associate superintendent of educational services. "We thought there would be tons of people saying, 'My kid's out.' "

He said the small numbers may be based on parents' perception that their child will be teased if they were put in a sheltered-immersion class.