Los Angeles Times

Wednesday, July 22, 1998

Prop. 227's 'Bumpy Ride'
Schools: L.A. district prepares to approve emergency plan for dismantling bilingual education.
By LOUIS SAHAGUN, Times Staff Writer

Amid predictions of chaos throughout the 661-campus Los Angeles Unified School District, the Board of Education indicated Tuesday that it will adopt a hastily prepared plan for dismantling bilingual programs starting Aug. 3.
     Los Angeles district officials estimated that it could cost an additional $40 million over the next four years to implement the proposal. "It's not going to be easy," said district Supt. Ruben Zacarias, who drafted the proposal. "It's going to be a bumpy ride for the first year.
     "But we have 310,000 reasons to make this thing work," he continued, referring to the number of district students with limited English skills.
     Among other options, his plan offers parents a choice of enrolling students in English-intensive classrooms but allowing them extra help in their native languages.
     Reflecting the high level of interest in the topic, more than 200 students, parents and teachers attended Tuesday's school board meeting. Most were confused, angry, or unconvinced by what they heard.
     Victoria Castro, president of the seven-member school board, predicted that the board would adopt Zacarias' proposal at its next scheduled meeting July 28 without seeking significant changes.
     But she warned of serious problems ahead as a result of Proposition 227, the anti-bilingual education measure overwhelmingly approved by voters last month. Nonetheless, Castro said, the district will abide by the new law.
     "There is no college or system to prepare us for this," said Castro, who voted against the initiative. "Everyone will have to go through the initial chaos together."
     Still, with so much at stake and so little time to get ready, district officials are forging ahead with implementation across the 680,000-student district.
     District officials plan to meet Thursday with principals from 214 year-round schools with semesters beginning in August. These schools are the first scheduled to have their bilingual education programs replaced with new English immersion classes mandated by the initiative.
     Within a week, parents districtwide will be receiving formal letters providing information about their options under Zacarias' plan.
     One option would be to transfer a child into an all-English class. A second would be for parents to request waivers that would allow their children to remain in traditional bilingual programs. Those options are allowed under the state initiative.
     The other two options, which district officials refer to as Model A and Model B, were tailored to meet Los Angeles' needs, Zacarias said. The goal of both is to transfer limited-English students to mainstream English-only classes within one year--provided that they are deemed reasonably fluent in English.
     Under Model A, students would be taught in English. Classroom aides and fellow students working as tutors would be available to help in the students' native languages.
     Under Model B, students would receive instruction almost entirely in English, but certified bilingual teachers, who have more training than the helpers in Model A, would be in the classroom.
     That bothered Alice Callaghan, a downtown activist who was a key supporter of Proposition 227.
     "This school board has arrogantly and defiantly decided to circumvent the law and proceed to practice bilingual education as it has been practiced here for 30 years," she said. "That is not a decision it is free to make. The result will be lawsuits."
     Carmen Schroeder, the district's assistant superintendent of instruction, dismissed such predictions and insisted that the new plan met the proposition's rules.
     Deborah Young, a 30-year-old bilingual teacher at Logan Street Elementary School, was among 30 teachers at the meeting who wore yellow cloth gags in their mouths meant to symbolize how, she said, "Proposition 227 gags teachers from teaching students using methods that are proven to work."
     "I start teaching Aug. 10," she said. "That leaves no time to inform parents and get English immersion materials, let alone define parameters of what our classrooms will look like."
     Indeed, the first few weeks of implementation could prove crucial and expensive. The main costs will be in retraining teachers for English immersion instruction and acquiring new books and other teaching materials, district officials said.
     Zacarias requested $938,000 to cover start-up costs for the first year and he expects nearly $39 million will be needed over the next four years.