Los Angeles Times

Wednesday, October 14, 1998

Districts Vary Widely in 227 Waiver Bids
Education: Santa Ana schools scramble to resurrect bilingual classes. Fullerton, however, has received just two waiver requests.
By TINA NGUYEN, Times Staff Writer

It's a month into the academic year, and some Orange County school districts are starting to shuffle students and place them into bilingual classrooms to accommodate parents' requests for native-language instruction.
     Despite voters' overwhelming passage of Proposition 227, which promotes English-only instruction, primary-language programs can be resurrected if the district is willing and there is widespread parent interest.
     The response by parents countywide has been decidedly mixed.
     In the Santa Ana Unified School District, for example, a preliminary count shows that 2,037 parents have asked that their children be exempted from the Proposition 227 regulations and, instead, be enrolled in bilingual classrooms.
     Even Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified turned up about 1,000 requests for bilingual programs. More waivers could trickle in later in the year, officials said.
     "We will try to respect the waivers that come in," said Marianne Smith, Placentia-Yorba Linda's second-language program manager. "But we certainly don't want to keep rearranging our classrooms throughout the school year."
     Meanwhile, Fullerton received only two requests. And in the Anaheim City School District, where 61% of students lack English fluency, just 10 have been sent in.
     "Some of our principals were very surprised by [the low turnout]," said Sandra Barry, Anaheim City's education administrator.
     But Anaheim's number may grow significantly in coming weeks. That's because the district's schools run on year-round schedules, and Tuesday's tally of waivers reflects only the students who started early this year, about a quarter of the total. Parents of the remaining pupils have until early November to submit a waiver.
     Under Proposition 227, children must start the school year in a monthlong English-immersion class. During that time, parents and schools can work out waiver requests if the district has agreed to provide alternative programs.
     The law recommends that a school create a bilingual class when at least 20 waivers at one grade level have been received.
     That means Fullerton and Anaheim schools won't have any bilingual classes until they reach the 20-waiver mark.
     But in Santa Ana and Placentia-Yorba Lindaschool officials must do some fancy footwork.
     Within two days, Santa Ana's Harvey Elementary rearranged classes so that almost a third of its students, or 186, could start bilingual programs Monday. Pio Pico Elementary has 465 bilingual requests to deal with. At 52%, that's the highest number of any Santa Ana school, officials said.
     Similarly, Topaz Elementary in Placentia-Yorba Linda is rushing to reorganize classrooms for about 200 students with exemptions. Most of those children will be in a bilingual setting by the end of the week, Principal Dorie Staack said.
     Placentia-Yorba Linda's estimated 1,000 waivers make up about 40% of the district's elementary students not fluent in English. That figure is a result of many weeks of counseling parents closely on their options, administrators said.
     "If the parents hadn't indicated what they wanted, we called and reminded them of their choices," said Yvonne Davis, assistant superintendent of education.
     Most districts said they are getting waivers mainly from parents of elementary-school children. That's because Proposition 227 targeted bilingual programs designed for that age group.
     Even so, some waivers are being filed for high schoolers. Anaheim Union High School District, where about a third of the 28,000 students are not fluent in English, received 123 requests.
     "We have many students who are recent immigrants," said David Steinle, Anaheim Union's education administrator.
     Despite a strong response in the Santa Ana and Placentia-Yorba Linda districts, officials with the other 22 Orange County school districts said they have not received any waivers. A handful, including La Habra City and Newport Mesa Unified, said they would consider offering bilingual programs if there eventually is a high demand. Most others gingerly said they do not intend to do so.
     "Clearly, we've implemented Proposition 227 and are committed to it," said Tracy Painter, Westminster's director of special projects.