Orange County Register

Tuesday, July 7, 1998

District Fights for Bilingual Program
EDUCATION: Capistrano Unified is one of 23 petitioning the state to make exceptions to Proposition 227.

Capistrano Unified School District will submit two waiver petitions to the state in an attempt to save a voluntary dual-language immersion program from being eliminated under Proposition 227.

School board members Monday voted unanimously to request the waivers for Las Palmas Elementary School in San Clemente, where a program teaches students simultaneously in Spanish and English. By sixth grade, students in the award-winning program are supposed to be fluent in both languages.

"I think it cannot be overvalued in today's society for children to be able to speak more than one language," said Ellen Gaddie, a Las Palmas parent. "The world is not just America, and not everyone speaks English all the time."

Prop. 227 says instruction must be overwhelmingly in English. All bilingual education programs, including the dual-immersion program at Las Palmas, must revert to English instruction within 60 days of the initiative's adoption.

About half of Las Palmas' 675 students were enrolled in the 5-year-old dual-language program last year.

"We consider it to be most ironic that the thrust of (Prop. 227) was immersion," said Superintendent James Fleming. "Here we have a program that is immersion, the very concept they were supporting. Yet, because of a few technicalities with the way (the initiative) was worded, this program will have to go."

Out of a handful of people who spoke, only Frank Fuller of San Juan Capistrano, who has no children in the district, opposed the waiver request, because, he said, it defied the will of voters.

One waiver request will be sent to the state Department of Education, overseen by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin. This waiver seeks to classify Las Palmas' two-way language program as an alternative school within a school, similar to programs geared to potential dropouts. Under the state's education code, the state Department of Education has the authority to approve such a waiver.

The second request, also to the state board, is for a general waiver to allow the program to continue.

Capistrano Unified is one of 23 districts asking the state board to review waivers Wednesday and Thursday.

The state Board of Education, equivalent to a statewide board of trustees, reaffirmed its intention July 1 to deny all waivers.

The board in the neighboring Saddleback Valley Unified School District voted last week to make the same waiver requests to save its program at Gates Elementary. It also is exploring creating a charter school.