Los Angeles Times
Saturday, March 14, 1998
Reaction to Bilingual Education Decision Varies
Schools: State board's move to loosen requirements fails to
end dispute. Some districts plan no changes; others applaud action.
By NICK ANDERSON, Times Staff Writer
Far from ending bilingual education, the State Board of Education's
decision to loosen the rules on teaching children with limited English
skills has hardened battle lines that have formed over an issue headed
for a statewide vote in June.
Educators were split Friday on the board's
decision the previous day to give local school districts more freedom to
decide whether they want to offer bilingual instruction.
In one camp were those who said they favor
native language education for their students and have no plans to drop
it. Typical of this view were officials in the Santa Ana and Los Angeles
unified school districts.
"We have a very strong bilingual program,
and we're going to continue to offer it," said Joe Tafoya, deputy
superintendent of Santa Ana Unified, Orange County's largest district,
where 70% of the 54,000 students speak limited English.
In Los Angeles Unified, nearly half of the
680,000 students are not fluent in English. Victoria Castro, a district
trustee, said she was "very confident that here in Los Angeles we
will maintain and continue to improve our education for primary-language
San Francisco and Ventura unified school
district officials also said they plan no changes.
But other districts that have scaled back
native-language instruction--or plan to do so--applauded the news that
the state board would scrap a provision requiring them to petition Sacramento
for approval. New regulations governing language instruction have yet to
be worked out.
The Capistrano Unified School District's
board of trustees voted Monday night to switch from a bilingual program
that lasts as long as six years to one that lasts only one or two. District
officials were concerned that they might have to ask the state board for
"I was able to tell my bilingual director
today, 'Hey, don't even worry about calling the state board to see if we
need to have a waiver.' Now it doesn't matter," said James A. Fleming,
superintendent of the 40,000-student Orange County district.
In the Westminster School District, which
obtained a precedent-setting waiver from bilingual education in 1996, a
school official, Tracy Painter, said the 9,500-student system may face
less red tape as it continues its English-immersion plan.
The state board's actions also could have
repercussions for a campaign to curtail bilingual education by voter initiative.
Proposition 227, the so-called English for the Children initiative, seeks
to end most native-language teaching.
Holli Thier, spokeswoman for the No on 227
campaign, said the state board's action underscores the contention that
the initiative would impose a statewide mandate.
"Local school districts need to have
choices," Thier said, "and they're the ones that can best determine
how to educate children. The problem with Prop. 227 is it will outlaw all
of that choice."
But Ron K. Unz, who launched the initiative,
said the state board's action would have little political effect.
Skirmishing over bilingual education rules
also is expected to continue next month when the state board determines
the shape of new regulations.
Bilingual education advocates argue that
fiscal provisions of state law require school districts to offer bilingual
education when necessary--even though the state's bilingual education statute
expired in 1987 and was never replaced.
Delaine Eastin, state superintendent of public
instruction, noted the legal debate in a statement criticizing the state
board's action and implying that many regulatory issues remain unresolved.
"I have a constitutional responsibility
to uphold the law, and until the law is changed formally, I will uphold
the existing legal requirements to teach and provide support for all children
to develop fluency in English and obtain high academic achievement,"
But Gov. Pete Wilson applauded the board.
"What we support is the acquisition
of English language skills as quickly as possible," said Wilson spokesman
Dan Edwards, "and the reality that there may be a way in Calexico
that works much better than the way you may be using in Elk Grove or Humboldt
County. Now this kind of leaves the slate open."
Times staff writers Doug Smith and Fred Alvarez contributed to this