Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, June 23, 1998

Fighting for Dual Immersion
Education: After passage of Proposition 227, a Saddleback Valley school considers options to save its popular bilingual program.
By LIZ SEYMOUR, Times Staff Writer

A Saddleback Valley elementary school is searching the legal limits of the state education bureaucracy for ways to save a popular "dual-immersion" program, which teaches two languages to English- and Spanish-speaking students.
      The program is in jeopardy after the approval of Proposition 227 by voters earlier this month, school officials said. The school board today will consider applying for charter school status or creating an alternative school to preserve dual immersion, school officials said.
      But state education officials say the program may not be as endangered as local officials think.
      "There's no program, per se, that's been made illegal," said Bill Lucia, executive director of the state Board of Education.
      The state board is meeting weekly throughout the summer to decide how to implement the initiative, which essentially dismantled bilingual education. That includes what to do about the estimated 100 dual-immersion programs statewide.
      "The board is trying to figure out a mechanism to make it work," Lucia said.       The program at Gates Elementary School in Lake Forest teaches 333 students--a mix of native English and Spanish speakers--from kindergarten through sixth grade. In the first year, 90% of classwork is taught in Spanish. English is increased gradually every year, and by fifth and sixth grade, half the course work is English.
      Aside from the language instruction and cultural lessons, the curriculum is the same as is taught in the rest of the 776-student elementary school, said Principal Mary Jacks. The 7-year-old immersion program has support among parents, teachers and school board members.
      "It would be pretty devastating to me and a lot of other parents if this would no longer be offered," said Ginny Aitkens, whose daughter, Irene, is enrolled in the program. "It is a great way to teach kids."
      The district applied for a waiver from state education regulators to continue teaching in two languages, but school officials said they've heard that that outcome is unlikely.
      If the Saddleback school board endorses the charter and alternative school proposals, they still need state education approvals, said Gloria Roelen, Saddleback's coordinator for bilingual services.
      At the Charter Schools Development Center in Sacramento, co-director Lori Gardner said she has talked to teachers and school administrators across the state who are hoping to salvage bilingual programs by attaining charter status.
      Her group tells them that going charter is a major step that influences many aspects of school life, she said. Using it as strategy to resist Proposition 227 "may not be a sufficient step to go charter."