L.A. Schools Are Abusing Prop. 227, Report Says

Grand jury says they still teach some children in Spanish and urge parents to seek waivers. The district denies wrongdoing.

Los Angeles schools are abusing the anti-bilingual education law,
Proposition 227, by continuing to teach some children in Spanish and by urging
parents to waiver out of English-intensive classes, according to a county grand
jury report released Wednesday.

As a result, Los Angeles Unified School District administrators and teachers
“may be exposing themselves to legal action,” the report said, adding that
financial liability to both the district and to the individuals involved could
be significant.”

“We are troubled by these assertions,” said Brad Sales, spokesman for Supt.
Ruben Zacarias. “However, we feel we’ve implemented the 227 strategy according
to the law, and it was implemented with public input and on the advice of legal

“Unfortunately,” Sales added, “we were never given an opportunity to provide
the grand jury our side of the story.”

The volunteer panel of 23 county residents recommended that the Los Angeles
Board of Education “immediately discontinue” a form of English-immersion
instruction that uses a “child’s primary language to teach core subjects in
reading, language arts, science, social studies and math.”

The civil grand jury was responding to complaints when it began investigating
the way 46% of the district’s almost 700,000 students are taught. It has no
power to force compliance with its recommendations.

It said the district should acquire approved English-language textbooks and
other materials for English-immersion instruction as required by the law,
declared English the language of classroom instruction in California.

The grand jury also urged the district to “actively discourage” the use of
waivers as a means of circumventing Proposition 227.

The jury’s findings and recommendations followed a months-long investigation
of the district’s strategies for implementing the law, passed by an
overwhelming majority of voters June 3, 1998.

The district developed four instruction options from which parents of
limited-English students can choose: enrollment in conventional classes;
instruction almost entirely in English with classroom aides offering native-
language help (known as Model A); teaching mostly in English with a certified
bilingual education teacher (Model B); or application for a waiver to place a
child in a traditional bilingual program.

About 90% of the district’s limited-English students are enrolled in English-
immersion classes, with almost 82,000 in Model A and 117,000 in Model B.
10% of the district’s English-language learners filed waivers to be exempted
from English-immersion classes.

The grand jury determined that Model B was “being misused, based on the fact
that in actual practice, English is not being used to teach all subjects.”

It also found that as early as kindergarten, some classrooms had new
textbooks in the children’s native language.

“It is reasonable to question why at a level in which students are just
beginning to learn to read that they be taught in any language other than
English,” the report said.

Sheri Annis, spokeswoman for English for the Children, which endorsed
Proposition 227, said, “The grand jury’s conclusions are justified. It’s
unfortunate that this report is the only way in which the voice of the voters
will be heard” in the school district.

“We still have not decided what course of action we will take on this
matter,” she said. “But the district is certainly putting itself at risk.”

Alice Callaghan, director of Las Familias del Pueblo, a community center for
garment workers and their children, was more blunt.

“The bilingual education program voted out a year ago is still in place
because of the existence of Model B,” said Callaghan, who helped shepherd
Proposition 227. “The educational bureaucracy refuses to comply.”

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