Ventura County Star

Sunday, June 21, 1998

Area Districts Seek Ways To Conform to 227

This month's passage of Proposition 227 has left schools across California with 60 days to revamp their bilingual programs and switch to English instruction.

In Ventura County, school districts are tackling the situation in different ways.

Saying that 60 days isn't enough, the Hueneme School District could take the first step Monday toward asking the state for a full year to comply with the proposition.

"We don't want to do this in a haphazard fashion if we don't have to," Superintendent Robert Fraisse said. "This is a massive shift in the way we do business."

Without any guidelines from the state to date, the Ventura Unified School District has drawn up a preliminary set of its own, which trustees will consider Tuesday. District officials say they need to prepare for the upcoming school year and don't expect to get state advice any time soon.

In the Moorpark Unified School District, the bilingual coordinator said she plans to ask the state for permission to keep bilingual programs that are paid for with a federal grant.

Moorpark has three grants worth about $450,000 for bilingual programs at every school in the district, said Marilyn Green, special projects coordinator.

"The components of my contract require I be providing a bilingual program," Green said.

Written by Silicon Valley millionaire Ron Unz, Proposition 227 gives immigrant children about a year to learn English before moving into English-only classrooms. For the most part, schools cannot teach non-English speakers in their native language.

The initiative puts districts in a tough spot: It takes effect in August, leaving precious little time to redraw lesson plans, buy English textbooks and train teachers. But most educators aren't rushing to dismantle their bilingual programs because they say Proposition 227 leaves many unanswered questions and appears to conflict with federal law.

To add to the confusion, a coalition of civil rights groups has filed a lawsuit challenging Proposition 227. On July 15, a U.S. District Court judge will consider whether to put the measure's implementation on hold, until the lawsuit can be decided.

In Hueneme, 43 percent of the elementary students have limited English abilities. Of those, most receive some instruction in their native language, typically Spanish.

Fraisse said the district needs time to draw up a new curriculum and train teachers. It needs at least $500,000 to buy English textbooks to replace Spanish ones. And then there are all the unanswered legal questions.

For instance, Fraisse said, if a child who speaks only Spanish starts school, can the teacher tell him in Spanish where to hang his coat or sit?

If Hueneme's board gives the go-ahead Monday, the district would ask for a one-year waiver, which the state Board of Education would have to approve.

Meanwhile, eight school districts across the state are asking for a permanent exemption from Proposition 227.

"They see this as a way of preserving local control and flexibility," said Celia Ruiz, a San Francisco attorney who is representing five of the districts.

The state board will decide Friday whether waivers to Proposition 227 can even be considered.

Yolanda Benitez, superintendent of the Rio School District, said the situation is frustrating for school districts. She plans to take a list of questions about Proposition 227 to her district's attorney.

"It's like you want to stay within the law, but how do you stay within the law when there isn't clear guidance?" Benitez said. "Right now we're waiting for some answers."