San Jose Mercury News

Thursday, July 16, 1998

Schools in Quandary over Implementation
By MICHAEL BAZELEY, Mercury News Staff Writer

Local school districts are still not sure how to respond to the state's new anti-bilingual law despite a decisive court ruling Wednesday upholding the legality of Proposition 227.

Barring any legal delays, the voter-approved initiative takes effect Aug. 2, and school starts for most students about a month later. But many local educators still do not have plans for how to comply with the sweeping new law.

Most districts said this week they were either waiting direction from the state or still piecing together plans on how to comply. Some officials appear to be pinning their hopes on a parent waiver process that might allow them to keep some bilingual instruction.

``They are all over the map on this,'' said Bonnie Plummer, an assistant superintendent for the Santa Clara County Office of Education. ``Some (school districts) are doing charter schools. Some are saying, `We're not going to do anything.' Some are buying English textbooks.''

Passed by voters in June, Proposition 227 requires that most public school instruction take place in English. Students with little or no English skills are to be placed in an intensive English immersion class for a year and then moved into a regular class.

For school districts that have been educating students in their home language while they learn English, the law could require an abrupt about-face.

Schools will have to buy new English-language books, train teachers and develop a waiver process for parents who want to try to keep bilingual education.

The Oak Grove School District in San Jose, where about 20 percent of the students are classified as having limited proficiency in English, anticipated those issues. It put together a contingency plan before the June election, said Manny Barbara, assistant superintendent for educational services.

``If they say we have to implement this immediately, we're ready to go,'' Barbara said.

The district has educated many of its limited-English-speaking students with a traditional bilingual program in which instruction starts in the student's home language and makes a transition to English.

Developing English skills

But starting this fall, kindergarten students who are not fluent in English will be enrolled in an intensive ``English language development'' class in which they will learn English-language skills and receive some academic instruction.

In first grade, those students will move into regular English-language classes, where they will receive extra help in their native language if needed. Older students, who were enrolled in bilingual programs last school year, will be put in English classrooms this fall. They will be offered extra help in their native language through language centers already in place at many schools.

``There are going to be some students who will be able to move into the mainstream classes (without a problem),'' Barbara said. ``But I'm sure there will be kids who will have trouble learning English, and we want to be able to help them.''

The state Board of Education adopted emergency regulations last week that it said were designed to give schools and districts as much flexibility as possible when interpreting Proposition 227. The regulations still need to be reviewed by the state Office of Administrative Law. But state Department of Education officials said those regulations are available on the department's Web site.

San Jose Unified officials contend they will not have to change their Spanish-language bilingual programs. A court-ordered desegregation plan requires the district to provide bilingual education to Spanish-speaking students, and officials argue the federal order supersedes state law.

However, officials expect to have a new plan in place next month for its Portuguese- and Vietnamese-speaking students.

Year-round schools appear to be in the tightest bind. Their school year began this month, so any changes will take place midyear.

`In the throes'

``Next year is here for us,'' said Edith Edwards, principal of the year-round McKinley School in San Jose's Franklin-McKinley School District. ``We're in the throes of our year.''

Edwards said Franklin-McKinley principals have not yet received a plan from the district regarding Proposition 227. But she hoped officials could find a way to save the district's bilingual programs, which she said had shown remarkable progress at her school.

``I would not want to lose this program,'' Edwards said. ``We're doing so many wonderful things in our school.''

Other local educators were equally hopeful. Redwood City School District officials are holding off making changes ``until the last possible moment'' in hopes they can find a way to keep using bilingual instruction, language programs coordinator Barbara Babin said.

``We just put a considerable amount of energy into developing accountability procedures to make our bilingual education effective,'' she said. ``We're reluctant to give that up.''

The new law includes provisions for three types of waivers for parents and children who want bilingual classes. Two waivers are for children who already know English or are at least 10 years old.

Interest in 3rd waiver

Educators are especially interested in a third waiver that could allow children with ``special physical, emotional, psychological or educational needs'' to get bilingual instruction if the school staff and district superintendent feel the children would benefit.

That waiver does not totally exempt students from English-only instruction; students must spend the first 30 days of the school year in an English-language class. But several districts said they hoped it would provide a loophole to save their bilingual programs.

Santiago Wood, superintendent of the Alum Rock School District in East San Jose, said his district has not finalized its plans. But he envisioned being able to offer parents a menu of choices, including bilingual and English-only instruction.

``We're flexible,'' he said. ``We have great staff. And we have parents who are going to pull up their sleeves and make it work.''

Mercury News Staff Writer Lori Aratani contributed to this report.