Los Angeles Times

Thursday, July 30, 1998

Loophole Delays English-Only Classes at Some O.C. Schools
Education: Anti-bilingual Prop. 227 takes effect Sunday, so some districts have moved up beginning of semester to Friday.
By TINA NGUYEN, Times Staff Writer

Under the gun to comply with a voter-approved law that dismantles bilingual education, some Orange County school districts are using a loophole to delay by weeks--or even months--the start of English-only instruction.
     Proposition 227, the successful anti-bilingual education initiative, is scheduled to take effect when classes begin next week. But some Orange County school districts have moved up the official start of the school year to Friday, a teacher training day, in a maneuver that temporarily exempts this first wave of classes from the English-immersion program.
     "It has everybody's head spinning," Robert Balen, school board trustee for Santa Ana Unified School District, said of curriculum changes in the district where roughly 38,000 students do not speak English fluently. "We're talking about a major, major redo of our approach to education in our district, and you don't do that overnight."
     But some critics accuse district leaders of trying to evade the law. Administrators have known for months that bilingual education was being threatened by the popular ballot initiative, and should have been prepared for this, they said.
     "I'm furious that Anaheim City is doing this," said parent Doug Hamptom, who withdrew his two children from that district last December because he believed teachers spent valuable classroom time translating instructions to Spanish-speaking students. "The district is always trying to circumvent whatever the will of the people is."
     Another parent said schoolchildren will ultimately suffer.
     "We can't be putting the English-language program that kids definitely need on hold," said Jim Colon, who has four children in Santa Ana public schools. "I think it's a tragedy that Santa Ana doesn't have a plan. They have procrastinated all year."
     Nearly 60 year-round elementary schools in six Orange County school systems will begin classes in August. Not all of them offer bilingual education, however.
     While many year-round schools throughout Orange and Los Angeles counties are expected to comply with Monday's deadline, the actions of school districts in Santa Ana and Anaheim underscore the difficulty facing districts with a large concentration of non-English-speaking students.
     State education officials said they've fielded numerous inquiries from districts statewide regarding the issue of when the "school term" can officially begin.
     "Lots of districts are grappling with this," said Suanna Gilman-Ponce, a Proposition 227 consultant for the state Department of Education.
     School calendars are typically scheduled months in advance, and often begin with a teacher training day, followed later by the first day when students arrive for classes. This leaves open to interpretation what qualifies as the first day of school. Many districts consider it the day when students fill their seats. Anaheim and Santa Ana have ruled it as Friday, the day teachers return.
     The Orange County school districts are not seen as violating the law, because districts are given limited discretion in the matter, Gilman-Ponce and others said.
     "If it is a conscious and willful attempt, then that begs the question of whether that district is in violation of the institution," said Bill Lucia, executive director of the State Board of Education.
     Now part of the California education codes, Proposition 227 officially takes effect Sunday. Classes that begin after that day are required to abide by replacing all primary-language instruction with an English-only "immersion" program.
     Proposition 227, approved by a 61%-39% margin at the polls, seeks to end the practice of teaching students in their native language.
     In Santa Ana Unified, 22 year-round schools are scheduled to start classes Monday. Originally, officials feared that they had to fully comply with the regulations by that day.
     But, by marking the official first day of school as Friday, this batch of students is exempt from abiding by the new regulations.
     "It's not an instructional day for students, but nevertheless, it's [the] official day," Santa Ana Unified Supt. Al Mijares said Wednesday.
Anaheim City School District, an elementary school district with 22 year-round campuses, is taking the same approach.
     Although a quarter of the students start school Monday, teachers begin working this week--freeing the district from immediate compliance with the law. They will not have to fully implement new English-only programs until November, when the next wave of students begin school.
     In the meantime, kindergartners are being taught only in English and are exposed to primary-language instruction, Anaheim City Supt. Roberta Thompson said.
     Santa Ana has until September to overhaul its programs for all limited-English students.
     "At least we have several more weeks," Mijares said. "But to expect us to convert [immediately], that is not very realistic and neither is it wise. When you've been offering primary-language instruction for more than two decades, the whole thing doesn't turn on a dime."