Tuesday, June 9, 1998
Stockton Schools Grapple with 227
Beginning this fall, bilingual education will end in about 70 Stockton Unified School District classrooms but will continue in some form in about 800 others, according to the district's preliminary interpretation of Proposition 227.
The proposition, overwhelmingly approved last week by voters in San Joaquin County and throughout the state, all but ends a longstanding system in which students who speak little or no English are instructed primarily in their native languages.
As in other area districts, Stockton Unified officials said all effects of the new law won't be known until later this summer, when state education officials issue guidelines for how to comply with it. But Stockton Unified officials have identified 74 classes in which much or all instruction is in a language other than English because students speak very little or no English.
"The teaching staff of these classrooms must now teach their classes in English," said Carl Toliver, Stockton Unified's associate superintendent of educational services.
But most of the approximately 11,000 limited-English-proficient students in Stockton Unified are fluent enough to be taught by teachers speaking only English -- though often with the help of classroom aides who speak students' primary languages. And officials said these classes -- about 815 -- likely will not be changed.
"I don't see those classes threatened in any way," Stockton Unified Trustee Chuck Block said.
Sheri Annis, spokeswoman for English for the Children -- the group that spearheaded Proposition 227 -- said the new law doesn't automatically prevent districts from using bilingual aides -- as long as instruction is overwhelmingly in English.
"The one thing we do want to make sure of is that teachers are teaching, not the aides," she said.
Bilingual aides also are used in Lincoln Unified School District. Officials there said they have yet to sort out what, if any, changes they'll have to make in teaching the district's approximately 800 limited-English-speaking students.
In Lodi Unified School District, where there are about 7,000 limited-English-speaking students, officials will make similar decisions later in the summer.
"Basically, we're in a wait and see," said Bill Palmer, the district's curriculum director.
Toliver said a complete plan for implementing the law probably will be presented to Stockton Unified trustees in August.
"We're sort of in limbo," said Cheryl Meeker, principal at Victory School on Rose Street, which has four classes in which instruction is mostly in Spanish. "There's going to be changes. We know that. But what are those changes going to look like?"
The answer depends on decisions Stockton Unified and state education officials will make in the coming months. A legal challenge to the law also is under way.
Stockton Unified trustees, including Frank Orozco, said they have little choice but to plan to comply. Orozco added, however, that he favors seeking a waiver from the state Board of Education that would exempt the district from complying with all or part of the law.
"Bilingual education has been found to be the proper thing to do," he said.
Not everyone agrees.
Trustee Clem Lee said he will not support seeking a waiver.
"There's going to be a strong desire on the part of the bilingual-education mechanism to preserve as much of itself as it can in the wake of the passage of this proposition," he said. "I think it would be foolhardy, at this point, to substitute one's own judgment on this particular subject for the judgment of the voters. I think there's a mandate here."
Lee also said he may press the district to make changes in the 815 classes that district officials so far say will not need to be changed to comply with the law.
"That in my view is a gross misinterpretation of the initiative," he said. The district must do more than just teach these students in English to comply with the spirit -- if not the letter -- of the law, he said.
Later this week, the state Board of Education may close the door on one option when it takes up the question of whether it has the authority to issue waivers. The law contains no provision for such a waiver, however, and attorneys for the board already have advised that the board does not have authority beyond the law, said Gregory McGinity, senior policy consultant with the board.
And Saturday, the head of the California Teachers Association told its 280,000 members statewide to comply with Proposition 227. President Lois Tinson also assured members that the union would defend instructors who are taken to court for noncompliance.
That comes as some relief to Estela Enriquez-Medina, whose class of first-graders at Victory School is among those Stockton Unified officials said will likely become English-only in the fall.
On Monday, after explaining a lesson to her students in English and Spanish, Enriquez-Medina said it will be business as usual in her class for the rest of the term.
But the Spanish will all but vanish when the next term begins in August.
"Everything in my day will be different," she said.