Civil Rights office concludes Oceanside schools investigation

OCEANSIDE —- Federal civil rights investigators have accepted the Oceanside school district’s efforts to resolve complaints from parents unhappy about the district’s implementation of Proposition 227, which slashed bilingual education classes in California public schools.

Oceanside Unified School District has addressed all the issues raised by the parents, said Stefan Fosenzweig, the director of the San Francisco enforcement office of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, in a letter to district Superintendent Ken Noonan. Fosenzweig said the school district’s English Learner Master Plan —- adopted in October —- and the district’s promise to continue to comply with the new law show that the issues have been resolved. District officials released the letter Wednesday.

The master plan outlines the district’s language programs and policies for teaching English-learning students.

“I’m pleased that it’s come to some closure,” Oceanside Deputy Superintendent Carol Dillard said Wednesday. Issues raised during the investigation “will only serve to make our chosen program better,” she said.

“We are looking forward to working with (the Office for Civil Rights)
throughout the next few years to ensure that we continue to offer the best possible program for our students,” Dillard said.

Parents who first filed the complaints in July 1999 are displeased with the Office for Civil Rights’ decision, said Ismael Avilez, a parent who represents the group.

“The Office for Civil Rights is basically giving Oceanside a slap on the hand,” Avilez said. Many of the conditions parents complained about still exist in the school district, he said.

For example, Avilez said, limited-English-speaking students still have inadequate language programs, there are no committees for the parents of limited-English-speaking students, and the district’s meetings have inadequate translation for non-English speakers. District officials have said they have addressed those concerns.

Deborah Escobedo, a San Francisco-based attorney for the parents, criticized the Office for Civil Rights’ decision.

Accepting the school district’s promise to follow the law is a “shameful”
failure to enforce the law, Escobedo said.

California voters approved Prop. 227 in June 1998. The measure sought to scale back or eliminate bilingual education in the state by substituting a one-year English immersion program for students learning the language.

Oceanside adopted one of the strictest interpretations of Prop. 227. The district approved a few of the waivers allowed by the measure, but not enough to require bilingual classes to continue. Most other school districts approved hundreds of waivers, allowing those students to continue bilingual classes.

Oceanside parents filed complaints with the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights and the state Education Department, alleging they and their children had been discriminated against on the basis of language.
They raised issues such as whether limited-English-speaking students were being offered the same full range of opportunities available to English-fluent students.

Federal and state investigators visited five Oceanside schools in December 1999 and January 2000.

The state Education Department issued a report Sept. 29, based primarily on the visits, that said the district had failed to follow some aspects of the new law. District officials appealed the state’s decision in a letter that said the district had adopted the master plan and made other changes after the investigators’ visits.

Oceanside is one of 14 school districts included this year in the state’s Comite program, as a result of the district’s differences with the state Education Department, Dillard said Wednesday.

Comite, originally called Comite de Padres, resulted from the settlement of a 1985 charge that the state had inadequately monitored programs for English learners in districts with large minority populations, Dillard said. As a result, she said, each year at least 10 school districts are included in the Comite program that monitors programs for English learners.

“The process could last from two to five years,” Dillard said, but she added that state officials have indicated Oceanside is further along than most districts in the process and could complete the program in less time.


Contact staff writer Phil Diehl at (760) 901-4087 or pdiehl@nctimes.com.



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