Orange County Register

Tuesday, June 9, 1998

Capistrano Unified To Seek Waiver for Bilingual Program
PROP. 227: The dual-immersion class at Las Palmas Elementary in San Clemente can only be saved with state intervention.

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO A bilingual program that teaches students English and Spanish simultaneously can only be saved with state intervention because of the passage of Proposition 227, school officials said Monday.

The Capistrano Unified School Board agreed to request a waiver from the state Board of Education, although the state board's role is ambiguous after the passage of the initiative to end bilingual education.

The state board will review the waiver request Friday and hold a public hearing July 6.

Although Capistrano board members voted unanimously to seek the waiver allowing Las Palmas Elementary School in San Clemente to continue its dual immersion program, trustee Peter Espinosa proposed an amendment to the waiver that would include other districtwide transitional language programs.

"These waivers don't create a choice. What they do is erase a choice," Espinosa said, reminding board members that their initial fight was to rescue other transitional programs as well.

His proposed amendment was defeated 5-1.

"I'm filled with all kinds of emotion," said trustee Mildred Pagelow. "It isn't fair. I really don't want to sink this motion if it has any chance at all by burdening it with other programs that don't have a chance."

Other Orange County school districts are also seeking to protect programs outlawed by the ballot measure, which passed last Tuesday. Santa Ana Unified and Saddleback Valley Unified will discuss options at meetings tonight.

Capistrano's Las Palmas Elementary School provides English and Spanish instruction to 260 students in kindergarten through fourth grade. The program attempts to develop fluency in both languages, but it must end under Prop. 227. The new law requires that instruction be conducted almost exclusively in English and limits specialized instruction to one year before limited English students are placed in mainstream classes.

Prop. 227 allows for waivers to teach bilingual education to students over age 10, who already are fluent in English or have special needs.

The law says the state Board of Education will ultimately decide the validity of waivers, but the board stopped issuing waivers in March after a Sacramento judge ruled that California's bilingual education law was invalid.

The state board, which meets later this week in Sacramento, has pledged to defend Prop. 227 against lawsuits, said Executive Director Bill Lucia, who added that he will call for a loose interpretation of the law. For example, the one-year limit could be extended, year-round schools could be exempt during 1998-99 and languages other than English could be allowed to a limited degree, he said.

"There's wriggle room," Lucia said. "We'll try to avoid being draconian and to take a reasonable interpretation of what the voters intended."