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
"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
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
Another parent said schoolchildren will ultimately
"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
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
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
"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
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