District asks for bilingual exception

The 'dual immersion' program at Gates Elementary in Lake Forest is threatened by Prop. 227.

Saddleback Valley Unified School District officials have requested a state waiver to protect a bilingual education program threatened by Proposition 227, even though voters won’t decide on the initiative until June 2.

Gates Elementary School’s “dual immersion” program to teach children simultaneously in English and Spanish would be outlawed if voters approve the proposition, which enjoys a wide lead in polls.

Prop. 227 would require that instruction occur overwhelmingly in English.
It permits exceptions only after 30 days when parents of more than 20 limited-English students in each grade apply for an alternative program. The program at Gates, in Lake Forest, teaches English and Spanish part time each day to 333 students who speak both languages.

“We believe the option should be there for parents,” said.
Saddleback Superintendent Peter Hartman.

Saddleback has applied for a hearing at the State Board of Education’s July meeting, the last before school starts in September. But it’s unclear what the board can do. Since April, it has allowed districts to determine how to teach the state’s 1.4 million limited-English students after a judge ruled that the old bilingual law, which expired in 1987, was no longer enforceable.

Prop. 227 would supersede existing state law, so the state board would have no power to grant exceptions, said Ron Unz, the initiative’s chief sponsor.

Unz said dual immersion programs at Gates and 40 other schools could resume if Spanish instruction is deferred for the 30-day period required for a waiver.

But Hartman and parents said the Gates program would be disrupted if Spanish instruction doesn’t begin on the first day of school this fall.

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