San Jose Mercury News

Friday, July 10, 1998

Prop. 227 Rules Offer Flexibility
By MICHAEL BAZELEY, Mercury News Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO -- The state Board of Education approved guidelines Thursday that mean school districts must start complying with a new law intended to eliminate most bilingual education programs.

Parents and school officials grumbled Thursday at some of the wording in the board's regulations, which provide a framework for carrying out Proposition 227.

But trustees said afterward that they tried to interpret the new law in a way that gives schools and parents as much control as possible over their children's education.

``I'd say it's a flexible interpretation (of the initiative),'' board President Yvonne Larsen said after the meeting. ``We're trying to provide flexibility for programs that have parent support.''

The only chance the proposition might not take effect as planned now rests with a federal lawsuit seeking to have the initiative invalidated.

Proposition 227 passed with 61 percent of the vote last month. The initiative was intended to eliminate most bilingual education in California by requiring that the majority of instruction take place in English.

Under the new law, students with little or no English skills are supposed to be placed in an intensive English immersion class for about a year and then mainstreamed into regular classrooms. Parents who want their kids in alternative programs, such as bilingual classes, can petition for a waiver. But even if they are successful, instruction for the first 30 days of the school year must be in English.

The sometimes vague wording of the initiative meant the board had some leeway in deciding how the law would play out at the local level.

Key features
Some of the key features of their regulations include:

If students are not reasonably proficient in English after a year in the English immersion class, they can enroll for another year.

Once students move into a mainstream classroom, schools must continue to ``provide additional and appropriate services'' until the students are fluent in English and have caught up with their peers academically.

The board's executive director, Bill Lucia, said the state must provide this extra help -- which could include some instruction in a student's native language -- to comply with federal law and continue receiving federal funding.

Schools wanting to deny waivers would have to produce ``substantial evidence'' that the alternative program requested by the parent is ``not suitable'' for the child.

The board also intentionally chose not to tell schools how to set up their English immersion programs, saying that decision should be left up to local officials.

The board and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin will send out the regulations to districts this month. The emergency regulations will be in effect for only 120 days, meaning the board will have to approve permanent guidelines in the fall.

With its new guidelines, the board gave parents a lot of room to opt out of the provisions of Proposition 227.

In part, that was intended to appease supporters of ``dual-immersion'' language classes, where English-speaking and non-English-speaking students learn each other's languages. Dual-immersion parents have been pressuring the board to help save their programs, which usually have a strong academic track record and are popular among English-speaking parents.

``As a weekly parent volunteer, I see the pride of students as they learn two languages,'' testified Suzanne Bartz, who has two children in the Capistrano Unified School District. ``Dual-immersion is a scholarly, exciting program. I urge you to find a way to continue this wonderful program.''

Trustees and education department officials said the dual-immersion programs can continue to exist as long as parents take advantage of the waivers allowed under the new law. The only change is that those programs will have to instruct students in English for the first 30 days of each school year.

Larsen encouraged parents to organize to keep the programs. ``We want parents and kids in successful programs to become active and get lobbying to keep them,'' she said.

Educators have long considered the board to be hostile toward bilingual education. In fact, the board rescinded its bilingual policies in March.

But Larsen reminded people that the board never endorsed Proposition 227. And Lucia said that the board's support of waivers also applied to parents wanting to keep the more traditional, and controversial, bilingual education programs.

Keep programs that work
``We may have zealots, opponents of bilingual education, concerned that it's not the absolute wiping out of all those programs,'' Lucia said. ``But we want to ferret out (and keep) the programs that work.''

Still, not everyone left Thursday's meeting happy. The official in charge of the Capistrano school district's language programs complained about how quickly districts must revamp their programs.

``There's still not enough time,'' said Mary Lou Nava Hamaker, director of the English language development program. ``There's textbooks to buy and teachers to hire. It's a massive job to undertake in 60 days.''

Over the objections of local districts, the board decided earlier this month that the new law will take effect Aug. 2, as required by the initiative.

That means schools on traditional calendars must have their programs in place for the first day of school this fall. Most schools on year-round calendars -- such as those in the Franklin McKinley School District in East San Jose -- started their academic year this month. They will have to comply with the new law starting with the first semester that starts after Aug. 2.

Anti-227 suit pending
Whether schools will actually have to meet those deadlines is not certain, though. Civil rights groups are suing to block the initiative, arguing that it violates civil rights laws. A hearing on a motion for a preliminary injunction is scheduled for Wednesday.

In a related vote, the board also eliminated restrictions on how districts can spend their textbook and materials money, a move intended to make it easier for schools to buy the English-language materials needed to comply with the new law.

Previously, most textbook and materials money had to be spent on state-approved materials. Under the new guidelines, districts can spend the money on any books designed to help students learn English, as long as they are approved by the local school board.