San Jose Mercury News

Friday, October 9, 1998

Prop. 227 Guidelines Finalized
English use: State board leaves school districts some latitude.
By LORI ARATANI, Mercury News Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO -- California school districts will continue to have significant discretion in deciding how much instruction in English is enough to meet the needs of non-English-speaking students in the post-Proposition 227 world, under permanent rules established by the State Board of Education Thursday.

Proposition 227 bans most bilingual education programs in public schools and requires that students be taught ``nearly all in English.'' It calls for non-English-speaking students to be placed in English immersion classes for a year before moving into mainstream English classes.

Since voters approved the measure in June, school districts have been struggling to comply with its provisions.

The state board adopted emergency regulations in July. With a few minor edits, it made those rules permanent Thursday.

Many districts had hoped the board would better define what ``nearly all in English'' meant, by writing into the permanent regulations what percentage of instruction should be in English. But the board declined, saying local districts should have as much freedom as possible.

``All along we've tried to be as flexible as possible,'' said board President Yvonne Larsen. ``If there's a number, it could be misconstrued as a mandate. We want local districts to have as much flexibility and local control (as possible).''

The temporary regulations the board adopted in July and affirmed Thursday allow districts to keep students in special immersion classes for a second year if they are not ready to move into a mainstream course. They also allow districts to provide students with additional language support once they make the transition into regular classes.

Districts have interpreted ``nearly all in English'' in various ways. San Jose Unified is offering immersion classes that are 70 percent in English, 30 in Spanish. Further south, the Gilroy Unified School District offers instruction that is 60 percent in English, 40 percent in Spanish -- a split that last month had some trustees concerned about whether they were complying with the provisions of Proposition 227.

Proposition 227's author, Ron Unz, said the district was not complying with the initiative's provisions. But under the state board's regulations, Gilroy is in compliance.