Appeal on English immersion is rejected

Oceanside schools' revised policy facing state review

OCEANSIDE — The state has rejected Oceanside Unified School District’s appeal of findings that it denied services to English learners.

At issue is a difference between the district and the state Department of Education in the interpretation of Proposition 227, the voter-approved measure requiring that California students be taught mostly in English.

Proposition 227 includes a clause providing for the exemption of some children from English-only instruction. But unlike most districts across the state, Oceanside Unified denied most waiver requests — essentially throwing out bilingual education.

Many of the state’s concerns have been addressed in a master plan implemented in August, said district spokeswoman Cindy Sabato.

Paul Warren, director of accountability for the Education Department, said he was encouraged by the policy revisions. He said the department is reviewing them. If differences remain, state and school district attorneys will meet.

Sabato said the state’s rejection of the appeal will not change the substance of Oceanside’s English-only program.

“We do hope that when they review our master plan and take the time to talk with our staff, they’ll be satisfied that we’ve addressed all their concerns,” she said.

The Education Department issued a report in October critical of the 22,000-student district’s English-immersion program.

Points of contention remain. One is the department’s assertion that the district did not establish an alternative program besides English immersion for students who speak primarily Spanish.

Deputy Superintendent Carol Dillard said the district had no alternative program because the law only requires it when waivers are granted to 20 students in a grade. That never occurred in Oceanside. The district received 144 waivers requests last year and rejected all but seven.

Another issue is the department’s finding that Oceanside did not follow its own policies for granting or denying waivers, and that the explanation for denial of waivers was too general.

“That’s just wrong,” said Dillard. “The law has not indicated that parents have a right to a particular program. It does say they have a right to request a waiver, but it is left up to educators to decide what is appropriate.”

Dillard said she hoped the department would acknowledge Oceanside’s success on the state test of basic skills, where English learners made significant gains.

The findings of the yearlong investigation by the Education Department were in response to a complaint filed in July 1999 by the United Coalition for the Education of Our Children, a group of parents seeking continued Spanish-language instruction for members’ children.

Two San Francisco-based legal groups — Multicultural Education, Training &
Advocacy Inc. and California Rural Legal Assistance — filed the complaint on behalf of the parents’ coalition.

The advocacy group filed an appeal, claiming the state was not hard enough on Oceanside. That appeal also was denied.

The group also filed a complaint with the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. A team of investigators will visit the district next week.

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