San Jose Mercury News

Friday, August 21, 1998

School To Seek New Status
River Glen: Becoming an `alternative' campus could insulate dual-language immersion program from Prop. 227.
By LORI ARATANI, Mercury News Staff Writer

San Jose Unified school board trustees Thursday unanimously approved a request from parents at River Glen School's dual-language immersion program to seek state permission to become an alternative school -- an attempt to insulate it from a new state mandate requiring non-English-speaking students to be taught predominantly in English.

Earlier this month, San Jose Unified received a temporary reprieve that allows it to continue offering the dual-language program at River Glen School and other programs for Spanish-speaking students even though the programs conflict with Proposition 227.

A federal judge ruled that a federal court order requiring the district to offer native language instruction to Spanish-speaking students supersedes state law. As a result, San Jose Unified is the only district in the state allowed to offer native language instruction without forcing parents to obtain special waivers. The federal order is the result of a 1971 lawsuit by Latino parents that alleged that the district discriminated against their children by not offering them equal educational opportunities.

Under Proposition 227, which went into effect Aug. 2, River Glen's program would have to have been changed to include English instruction for non-English-speaking students -- a change educators say would conflict with the goals of the program.

Though clearing the way for River Glen's Spanish-immersion program to continue, the judge's ruling is only temporary. And while the district's lawyers are confident the judge will make that order permanent in November, River Glen parents wanted additional assurance that the school could keep operating without interruption. That's why they are seeking a waiver through the alternative schools provision of the California Education Code.

``We have a program that has been successful, that is nationally recognized, and we'd like to continue it,'' River Glen Principal Cecilia Barrie told the board.

By law, districts may designate any number of alternative campuses, schools that might have specially designed programs targeted at boosting student achievement. Enrollment must be open to all students, and teachers must choose -- not be forced -- to work at the campuses.

If approved by the local school board, alternative campuses must be ratified by the state superintendent of public instruction. The superintendent also has the authority to waive any provisions of the education code related to the school except for those governing earthquake safety and alternative schools.

Other requests in state
Five other dual-immersion programs have requested similar waivers from state schools chief Delaine Eastin. Eastin is scheduled to meet with parents at two of those schools in Orange County next week. Aides say she is leaning toward approving the requests.

Under Proposition 227, in dual-immersion programs, instead of receiving 90 percent of their instruction in Spanish during their first years in school, non-English-speaking students would have to be separated from their fluent English counterparts for 30 days and be taught predominantly in English. After 30 days, they would join other students and continue the regular program. Such a move, school officials say, would be disruptive to the students' education.

Another alternative
Parents at the school also could have sought an exemption from Proposition 227's English instruction mandate by becoming a charter school. At charter schools, parents and educators can design their own curriculum. Though they remain part of the school district, they are governed by their own board of trustees. River Glen parents, however, were eager to maintain their close ties with San Jose Unified and opted instead to seek an alternative school waiver.