Los Angeles Times
Friday, July 24, 1998
Anxiety Grows in Implementing Prop. 227
Schools: In less than two weeks, the initiative will take effect.
Educators question district's hastily crafted anti-bilingual plan.
By LOUIS SAHAGUN, Times Staff Writer
Jose Delgadillo's mind was reeling with questions and concerns when
he emerged Thursday from an emotional four-hour meeting with school officials
that was supposed to help educators implement the state's new anti-bilingual
"We're being thrown in . . . with no
developed curriculum or real guidelines beyond 'do your best,' " said
Delgadillo, who teaches at Belvedere Elementary School in East Los Angeles.
"There are no real answers except dive in and do it. Am I ready? No.
Will I do it? Yes."
Delgadillo wasn't alone in his anxiety and
frustration. Some 350 principals and teachers gathered in the Golden Ballroom
of the Omni Hotel and bombarded Los Angeles Unified School District officials
with pointed questions, but received few clear answers that they could
take back to their classrooms.
Nonetheless, theirs will be among the first
schools in the state to translate Proposition 227's often ambiguous rules
from the ballot to the classroom. The principals and teachers invited to
the briefing were from 214 year-round schools that will begin their new
terms in August, with 47 of those schools opening Aug. 3.
Their biggest questions included whether
curriculum will be ready in less than two weeks--it won't--and how much
Spanish, Korean or other foreign language can be spoken in the classroom
without violating the law. And because the district will offer programs
ranging from English-only instruction to assistance in native languages
by certified bilingual teachers, many wondered if teachers can get in trouble
for advising a parent on which course to choose.
At one point, L.A. Unified Supt. Ruben Zacarias
stood up and delivered a warning: "Parents will certainly ask for
advice. . . . What is not proper for any of us to do is go out there and
sell one model over another. That is wrong. That is unprofessional."
Then he added: "This whole thing could
blow up in our face. The people who put this law on us will come after
us in an even worse way."
The urgent questions and general dissatisfaction
with the answers revealed a palpable anxiety among educators as they race
to replace 22-year-old bilingual education programs with an English-immersion
plan hastily crafted by Zacarias and his staff.
Answers were in short supply in part because
the fine points of the law are still being debated and worked out by education
officials and attorneys.
Emergency regulations to implement Proposition
227 were filed Thursday with the secretary of state and took effect immediately.
The regulations give school districts some flexibility in interpreting
the vaguer parts of the initiative but do not give much guidance on the
ingredients of an English immersion class that would pass legal muster
under the new law.
Other questions cannot be answered until
parents respond to a questionnaire mailed today. The letter--written in
English and Spanish--presents families with a range of choices, including
their right to seek a waiver that would exempt children with special needs
from English immersion classes.
Until those letters are returned and sorted
out, it is unknown how many children will be enrolled in one program or
another, where teachers will be assigned, and how many new textbooks to
Anticipating a flood of questions from confused
parents, the district is setting up "Prop. 227 hotlines."
A major sticking point right now is defining
how much Spanish or any other foreign language can be used in classroom
instruction without violating the law, which was overwhelmingly approved
by state voters in June. It requires that students with limited English
skills spend one year in English immersion before transferring to mainstream
Besides waivers and mainstream English classes,
L.A. Unified's implementation plan includes two models of English immersion
that promise to be controversial. One, called Model A, would allow students
to be taught in English and assisted in their native language by student
tutors. The second, Model B, would allow students to be assisted by certified
The initiative defines English immersion
classes as those in which "nearly all" instruction is in English.
But that wording leaves much room for interpretation. Can a class be taught
70% of the time in English and still comply with the law?
"Can we use native languages in the
class in Model B? Yes. Can we use them half the day? No," explained
Toni Marsnik, coordinator of the district's language acquisition curriculum
development unit. "Look at it this way. Before, you had a full cup
of Spanish to teach with. Now, you have one-fourth a cup."
Dozens of principals and teachers in the
audience responded to that explanation with blank and worried expressions.
"When we teach something new and difficult,
that's a good place to use native language," Marsnik added. "The
daily calendar, however, is not new and difficult," and therefore
should not be discussed in any language other than English, she said.
Marsnik's simplistic explanations gradually
set the room buzzing with urgent chatter.
"That still doesn't clearly answer what
is to be taught in English and what can be taught in Spanish," said
Rita Flynn, principal at Norwood Street Elementary School in downtown Los
Angeles. "Model B is going to be the trickiest option."
Zacarias would not argue with that.
"If you think of questions on your way
home, or on your way back to school, please send them to us," he said.
"We don't have all the answers. But we will provide the resources
you need once you help us define what they are."
Maxine Matlen, principal of Fair Avenue Elementary
School in North Hollywood, didn't wait to openly criticize the letter going
out to parents. Her problem: The letter does not adequately highlight a
parent's right to file for a waiver.
"I want to see that choice clearly on
the front," she said, eliciting applause from several of her colleagues.
"I'll cut one out and paste it on the front of the letter myself if
I have to."
Responding from a podium, Forrest Ross, director
of the district's language acquisition branch, said, "If there is
anyway to make it more better, we'll do that. But my recommendation would
be not to cut and paste."
Times staff writer Nick Anderson contributed
to this story.