Los Angeles Times

Friday, September 25, 1998

School Board Seeks Prop. 227 Exemption for 34 L.A. Campuses
Education: Bilingual classes are necessary, officials say. State has refused to consider similar requests.
By DUKE HELFAND, Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles school board sought permission Thursday for 34 schools to continue bilingual education programs that would otherwise be prohibited by Proposition 227.
     Saying that the programs give student solid academic foundations, officials asked the State Board of Education to exempt the campuses from the English immersion law.
     "We are making the case that we should build on what students bring to us," said school board member Jeff Horton. "If we produce a generation of students who speak two languages, what an achievement."
     The state board has refused to consider similar requests by 40 other school districts until it resolves pending litigation over Proposition 227. In fact, the board was expected today to appeal a ruling by an Alameda County Superior Court judge requiring it to consider waiver requests.
     The appeal was not expected to be heard for several months.
     "The board won't put any Proposition 227 waiver requests on its agenda until it gets further direction from the appellate courts," said Bill Lucia, the board's executive director.
     Proposition 227's author, Silicon Valley businessman Ron Unz, blasted the action by Los Angeles school officials.
     "They're asking the state to illegally nullify an initiative passed by millions of California voters," Unz said. "I feel very confident the state Board of Education will abide by the law, unlike the Los Angeles Board of Education."
     The Los Angeles board wants to free the 34 schools from specific requirements of Proposition 227, including a 30-day period at the beginning of each term when students must enter English immersion classes before they can switch to bilingual programs.
     The board also is asking that parents who want their children to continue in bilingual classes not be required to make that request in person at the school, as now required by the law. District officials said the law places an undue hardship on parents, particularly those who work several jobs.
     Advocates of bilingual education welcomed the school board's action, saying the often-criticized method of instruction helps students build basic skills and form cultural bridges.
     Eleven of the schools seeking freedom from the law offer dual-immersion programs in which students learn their native language as well as a second or third language.
     The remaining 23 schools offer more traditional bilingual programs in which students gradually make the transition from Spanish to English, with the goal of becoming proficient by the fifth-grade--a period that some educators criticize as too long.
     "It validates the success of the program and the desire of the parents and teachers to continue with a program that allows our children to transition into English-only programs," said Diana Hernandez, director of bilingual effort at the 23 schools.
     "I feel that the bilingual program has prepared me for college and the future," 12-year-old Jorge Hernandez, a student at Stevenson Middle School on the Eastside, told the school board. The boy is no relation to Diana Hernandez.      "When I get older, most good jobs will require two languages."