Los Angeles Times
Sunday, October 4, 1998
Many Santa Ana Parents Seeking English-Only Waivers
Education: As deadline nears, hundreds wary of immersion classes
opt for exemptions for their children allowed by Prop. 227.
By LISA RICHARDSON,
Times Staff Writer
With days left to decide whether to keep their children in English-only
classes or obtain a waiver that allows students to learn in their native
language, hundreds of Santa Ana parents are requesting waivers from the
English immersion classes, school officials said.
Schools were given a 30-day period to explain
the English immersion enrollment process to parents and to accept their
requests for waivers. The period ends at different times throughout the
county because schools start their years at different times, but most are
nearing the end of the period.
At Pio Pico Elementary, Principal Judith
Magsaysay said the school received 100 requests for waivers on the first
day of parent notification, weeks ago.
"They always made it clear that that
would be the case, right from the beginning when it was explained to them
that they would have opportunities to have a choice," she said.
Proposition 227, which California voters
approved in June, banned most bilingual instruction in public schools in
favor of so-called English immersion. However, it contained a provision
allowing parents to file for exemptions from the mostly-English classes,
and in most circumstances, the schools must comply. Principal
Robert De Berry at Walker Elementary School, where about 90% of the school's
1,300 students are limited English speakers, said he has seen similar numbers.
Walker's 30-day period does not end until Oct. 14, however, and parents
still have time to sign up.
Also, the district has not yet gathered waiver
information from each school, so it is not possible to say where most parents
are placing their children.
But at other districts, officials say parents have not asked for any waivers.
Officials at Westminster schools say the
successful alternative English program already in existence helped ensure
a high level of comfort among parents about English-based instruction.
The district has 4,100 students learning
to speak and read English, said program director Tracy Painter. So far,
no parents have asked for waivers and classes in their primary language.
"We've essentially been doing instruction
that was English-based, so our parents are not looking for an alternative,"
The La Habra school district also anticipated
some requests for waivers--16% of the district's 5,959 students are learning
English--but none has been made.
"I'm delighted that things appear to
be going as smoothly as they are--but I think that many of the parents
here voted for it," said program director Gail Reed.
Touring the schools last week, she watched
teachers who for years taught lessons in Spanish, giving English instruction.
One of those was Ladera Palma Elementary School teacher Olga Miller.
Most of her class of 19 students knows only
a few English words. Miller, who taught in Spanish for 10 years before
the passage of Proposition 227, sometimes pantomimes her way through a
lesson but also uses pictures, songs and chants.
"When I see them all staring at me like
they just don't understand, then I explain in Spanish," Miller said.
Before reading a book to the children, she
explains the story to them in Spanish. Then she walks them through the
book identifying the various pictures, and lastly, reads to them in English.
They discuss the book in both languages and
Miller reviews it with them again in Spanish to be sure they have understood
Often the lessons are wrapped into games
and nursery rhymes. So far, the children have learned Humpty Dumpty, Jack
and Jill and Little Boy Blue. They have sung "Head, Shoulders, Knees
and Toes" and followed Miller in alphabet chants.
At first skeptical about the change, the
teacher is now confident that the children will learn well.
"They are just wonderful kids and so
eager to learn--their eyes just light up at everything," she said.
The students seem determined to focus on
speaking English in class, sometimes with comic results.
"We were doing an alphabet cheer: I'd
say 'A, A, A,' and they'd repeat it. 'B, B, B,' and they'd repeat after
me. Then I said 'C, C, C."' And, thinking she had just said "yes"
three times in Spanish, one of her students admonished her, "No, No,