Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, July 21, 1998

Schools Draw Up Plans to Implement Prop. 227
Education: With reactions from defiance to acceptance, districts statewide prepare for end of bilingual programs.

From pledges of open defiance to scattered examples of quiet enthusiasm, school districts statewide have begun laying plans to respond to Proposition 227, the state's anti-bilingual education initiative.
     Today, Los Angeles Unified School District officials plan to formally unveil a strategy that seeks a middle ground for teaching limited-English students: Put most of them into English-intensive classrooms, but allow help in their native language if they need it. The plan will cost the district almost $1 million next year, officials estimate, mostly to retrain teachers for English-immersion classes.      At least two other major districts are taking a far more combative stance on the initiative, which voters approved overwhelmingly last month.
     The Oakland and San Francisco school districts, for example, have pledged an all-out fight to preserve bilingual education.
     San Francisco district Supt. Bill Rojas says his schools remain bound by a federal consent decree to offer bilingual education. The decree came in the wake of a 1974 Supreme Court ruling that found the district discriminated against students who speak Chinese by forcing them to take classes only in English.
Oakland Unified officials also point to a federal document--in this case an agreement between the district and the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights--that they say requires them to offer bilingual education.
     Sue Piper, an Oakland Unified spokeswoman, said the district is also trying to force the State Board of Education to consider giving a blanket waiver from Proposition 227's provisions.
     If all else fails, Piper says, the district will "proactively" work with parents to help them obtain exemptions from the English-immersion mandate.
     "Philosophically, we do not believe the approach mandated [by the proposition] is the best program," Piper said.
     The proposition allows waivers for children if they already know English, are over 10 years of age, or have special physical, emotional, psychological or educational needs that require instruction in their native language. The State Board of Education has approved emergency regulations that urge districts to give strong consideration to parental requests.
     Some districts that already teach their limited-English students mostly in English are planning to go along quietly with the initiative. Those districts include Sacramento City Unified and Garden Grove Unified in Orange County.
     Somewhere between defiance and acceptance are districts that are going along grudgingly or have still made no plans for change.
     Fresno Unified Supt. Carlos A. Garcia, an opponent of the initiative who debated its prime sponsor, Ron K. Unz, during the campaign, said he has crafted a plan for many of his limited-English students to be taught in Spanish or another native language for up to one-third of the typical school day. That would be a generous interpretation of the initiative's mandate that students be taught "overwhelmingly" or "nearly all" in English.
     In Santa Ana Unified, Orange County's largest school district, Deputy Supt. Joe Tafoya said the school board has not decided on a plan.
     No matter what policy is adopted, Tafoya said, it will not be easy for a district with 37,000 limited-English students to make wholesale changes in time for the fall semester.
     "For some districts, it's going to be like stopping a bicycle. For other districts, it's like stopping a car," he said. But in Santa Ana, "we're talking a full-fledged Amtrak train. It's going to take a while to stop the momentum we have in the other direction."
     In a state with 1,000 school districts--with each fiercely guarding its autonomy--there may well be 1,000 Proposition 227 plans.
     But proponents and foes are closely watching a few districts that have the lion's share of California's 1.4 million limited-English students, particularly Los Angeles Unified, which has more than 310,000 such students--nearly half its overall enrollment of 681,000.
     Essentially, the plan developed by Los Angeles Unified Supt. Ruben Zacarias and his staff will let parents choose among four options for students with limited English skills.
     One option would be simply to transfer a child into an all-English class. A second option would be for parents to request waivers that would allow their children to remain in traditional bilingual classes. Those two options are explicitly allowed under the initiative.
     The final two options, which district officials refer to as Model A and Model B, are hybrids.
     Under Model A, students would be taught in English. Classroom aides and fellow students working as tutors would be available to provide help in the students' native languages.
     Under Model B, students would receive instruction almost entirely in English, but a certified bilingual education teacher would be in the classroom to provide help.
     That idea immediately drew fire from supporters of Proposition 227.
"Model B looks very similar to native-language instruction. That is not what people voted for," said Alice Callaghan, a community activist in downtown Los Angeles who was a key supporter of the initiative. "I hope this is not an intentional attempt to misrepresent the initiative and thereby circumvent it."
     Opponents of the initiative, meanwhile, said they also have doubts about Zacarias' plan.
     "I wouldn't want to walk into my classroom in August facing this many uncertainties," said Steve Zimmer, a teacher at John Marshall High School who opposed Propostion 227. "It seems illogical to implement a program with so many holes in it, then retrain people to run it. That's a recipe for chaos in the classroom."
* * *

Complying With Prop. 227
     California schools must begin to comply with the anti-bilingual education initiative, Proposition 227, by Aug. 3. Here are the 10 California school districts with the most students who have limited English skills and school officials' plans to respond to the initiative.
* * * District: Los Angeles Unified
No. of limited-English students: 310,000
No. in bilingual programs: 102,000
District's plan for the programs: English immersion with an option for native language support
* * * District: San Diego City Unified
No. of limited-English students: 37,000
No. in bilingual programs: 12,000
District's plan for the programs: English immersion following the initiative
* * * District: Santa Ana Unified
No. of limited-English students: 37,000
No. in bilingual programs: 9,000
District's plan for the programs: School board undecided
* * * District: Long Beach Unified
No. of limited-English students: 30,000
No. in bilingual programs: 12,000
District's plan for the programs: Gradual phase-in of English immersion
* * * District: Fresno Unified
No. of limited-English students: 26,000
No. in bilingual programs: 3,000
District's plan for the programs: English immersion with up to one-third of school day in native language
* * * District: Garden Grove Unified
No. of limited-English students: 21,000
No. in bilingual programs: 700
District's plan for the programs: English immersion
* * * District: San Francisco Unified
No. of limited-English students: 19,000
No. in bilingual programs: 8,000
District's plan for the programs: Fight initiative. Believes a court order still requires bilingual education.
* * * District: Oakland Unified
No. of limited-English students: 17,000
No. in bilingual programs: 4,000
District's plan for the programs: Fight initiative. Encourage parents to seek waivers to allow bilingual education.
* * * District: Montebello Unified
No. of limited-English students: 17,000
No. in bilingual programs: 10,000
District's plan for the programs: Community task force considering implementation. Principals to inform parents of options, including bilingual education.
* * * District: Sacramento City Unified
No. of limited-English students: 16,000
No. in bilingual programs: 1,000
District's plan for the programs: English immersion

Source: 1996-97 state survey of school districts