San Diego Union-Tribune

Saturday, March 14, 1998

A New Bilingual Era: School Board Repeals a State Requirement

The state Board of Education has made a virtue of necessity by repealing California's bilingual education requirement.

As a practical matter, this issue was supposed to become largely moot in 1986, when the Legislature allowed the state's bilingual education mandate to expire. Since then, school districts have theoretically had a greater degree of flexibility in providing instruction for students who don't speak English.

Which isn't to suggest that districts can ignore these students. To the contrary, state law requires that they be taught in a manner that enables them to become fluent in English and to succeed in the classroom.

Consequently, the state Department of Education oversees bilingual education and monitors several districts to ensure compliance. San Diego Unified has been monitored for the last four years and has found the experience to be relatively painless. Tim Allen, who directs the city schools' bilingual program, which serves 28 percent of the district's 137,000 students, says he has been able to work with the state.

Rosalia Salinas, who keeps tabs on bilingual programs throughout San Diego County, has had a similar working relationship with state education officials. She doesn't expect the state board's action to increase significantly the instructional flexibility that districts already have. Nor do we.

The board acted several days after Sacramento Superior Court Judge Ronald Robie ruled that an Orange County school district was not obliged to obtain a bilingual-education waiver, because the state law expired 12 years ago. It also is significant, of course, that the policy change comes amid a political climate in which there is strong public support for a June ballot initiative that would all but ban bilingual education programs in their current form.

Ironically, Proposition 227, sponsored by Silicon Valley businessman Ron Unz, would deprive school districts of the very flexibility on bilingual instruction that they would have with repeal of the state mandate. But such ironies are lost on those who seek simple answers to complex problems.