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," she said.
     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 the story.
     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, No!"