Bilingual education rules may change

OCEANSIDE —- Local bilingual education supporters are cheering proposed changes to California law that would allow teachers to help parents apply for waivers to get their students into bilingual classes.

The state Board of Education in Sacramento has proposed changes to regulations from California’s Proposition 227, the 1998 voter-approved initiative to end bilingual education. The law prohibits students from being taught in Spanish unless the district approves waivers allowing bilingual classes.

Before last week, only parents could apply for the waivers. But the state board is considering changes that would allow teachers and other school staffers to help apply for the waivers on behalf of students. Under the regulations, parents may refuse a waiver —- or a teacher’s help —- at any time.

A group of local parents lobbying for bilingual classes called the proposed change a small victory toward bilingual education in Oceanside, where school district officials historically have not approved enough waivers to create a bilingual class.

“Teachers know the most about how their students learn, and now this will allow them to advocate for their students who need an alternative program,” said Laurel Elementary School parent Ismael Avilez, who has led a three-year crusade to re-establish bilingual education in Oceanside. “Slowly but surely, people are starting to see a downfall in students who need bilingual education and are not receiving it.”

Oceanside Unified School District Superintendent Ken Noonan, who has fought fiercely in Sacramento and in the media for all-English classes, said he had not seen the proposed regulations. But Noonan said he worried that the proposed rules would allow teachers who advocate bilingual education to pressure parents into applying for waivers.

“Parents, especially Mexican national parents, are often either intimidated by school officials or heavily influenced by them. That’s part of the culture, the intense respect for authority,” Noonan said. “I’d worry about any language that shifts part of the authority from parents when it comes to choosing bilingual education.”

Noonan has drawn heat in the last several years for his strict interpretation of Prop. 227. While superintendents in other districts approved hundreds of waivers allowing students to remain in Spanish-based classes after the initiative passed, Noonan placed all Spanish-speaking students into English-only classes.

Parents shouldn’t expect the district’s stance on waivers to change, Noonan said. The district has received no waivers in the last two years, he said.

Though the district’s resistance to bilingual education has angered a group of mostly Latino parents and has sparked investigations from state and federal education departments, Noonan points to rising test scores as evidence that English-only classes are working.

“I think people are starting to realize that English immersion means more successful students,” he said. At Laurel Elementary, where more than 60 percent of students are learning English as a second language, test scores have shot up more than 100 points incrementally during the last three years.

Avilez said the rise in test scores reflects that English-deficient students are becoming better test-takers, not necessarily better students.

Noonan said testing has become far more important in California’s education system since Prop. 227, and test scores reflect how a student will be able to compete in today’s educational climate.

“The game has changed since 227… the standardized tests, the High School Exit Exam —- all of those are in English, and they ultimately will decide which students graduate,” he said. “Bilingual education advocates are setting these kids up to crash.”

The state board has been updating regulations relating to Prop. 227 for several months, board spokesman Phil Garcia said. The regulations must be approved by the board in the next several months before being finalized, he said.

Contact staff writer Erin Walsh at (760) 901-4090 or

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