SACRAMENTO – The author of an initiative that limited bilingual education contends a board controlled by the appointees of Gov. Gray Davis has basically overturned the initiative.
Ron Unz said the state Board of Education adopted regulations last week that allow school staff, rather than parents, to seek waivers required under Proposition 227 to allow children to enroll in bilingual education programs that conduct most instruction in a foreign language.
The initiative, approved in 1998, is aimed at teaching most immigrant children in English.
Unz said the regulations also end a requirement in Proposition 227 that English learners be taught in English for the first 30 days of each school year, even if they enrolled in bilingual education the previous year and intend to continue.
“The combination of these two changes would essentially re-establish California’s system of bilingual education for 1.5 million immigrant students,” Unz said in an e-mail yesterday sent to the media and supporters of Proposition 227.
The president of the Board of Education, Reed Hastings, said he thinks Unz is overreacting to the new regulations that were opposed by both Unz and several groups that advocate bilingual education.
“I really think that Ron Unz is going over the top when he implies that we have gutted Proposition 227,” said Hastings. “I forecast that there will be no surge in bilingual education from these actions. There will be a reduction in frustration for parents and teachers.”
Hastings said the regulations clarify the ability of principals and teachers to recommend that a child be placed in bilingual education. But, he said, the parent will still make the decision.
“Purists are sometimes afraid of information and want to implement gag rules about what professionals can recommend,” he said.
Unz said immigrant parents will be “easily intimidated” by administrators and teachers and approve the bilingual education waivers. He said there are reports that teachers have been “harassing” parents to seek waivers.
“Under the proposed regulations, the teachers would stop harassing the parents and just apply for the waivers themselves,” said Unz.
Hastings said the requirement that English learners annually take 30 days of instruction of English even when enrolled in bilingual education is harassment for the students and parent.
Unz said the regulation ending the annual 30-day English requirement overturns an important part of the initiative intended to help parents decide each year whether their child is ready for English immersion.
The backers of Proposition 227, approved by voters in June 1998, argued that students kept in bilingual education programs for four to seven years were failing to learn English and performing poorly.
Unz said data released recently by the state Department of Education shows that English learners who avoid bilingual programs perform better academically. Hastings agrees that the data supports English immersion.
“However, I think the parents’ right to choose what is best for their child is very important,” Hastings said.