North County lawmaker joins bilingual ed battle

OCEANSIDE —- Assemblyman Mark Wyland, R-Encinitas, is jumping into the statewide fight over bilingual education law by pushing a bill that would strengthen the rules of Proposition 227, the law that requires schools to teach in English.

And he’s bringing Oceanside Unified School District superintendent Ken Noonan into the ring with him.

Wyland, a staunch supporter of all-English instruction for students with other native languages, is sponsoring a bill that would keep the State Board of Education from making it easier for districts to provide bilingual education.

Under Prop. 227, which was passed in 1998, students must be taught in English unless the district approves parent-requested waivers allowing bilingual classes.

For several months, the state board in Sacramento has considered changes to the rules that would make it less cumbersome for districts to offer those bilingual classes. The proposed changes include the removal of a rule that requires students to take 30 days of all-English classes each year.

But Wyland’s bill, Assembly Bill 2711, would make it impossible for the state board to lift the annual 30-day English requirement. The bill also would require parents who want their children in bilingual education to provide a written description of a “legitimate educational reason” for their request.

“Changing the Prop. 227 regulations, in my mind, violates the intent of the law, which is that the future of our children is to learn English,” Wyland said. “The aim of the bill is to preserve that intent.”

Wyland has enlisted Noonan, a vocal and sometimes controversial supporter of English-only classes, to testify Wednesday in Sacramento on behalf of the bill. Noonan, a Latino who has garnered statewide attention by refusing to allow any bilingual education programs in the Oceanside district, is scheduled to go before the Assembly’s education committee Wednesday evening along with prop. 227 advocate Ron Unz.

“Ken grew up in a bilingual home, he cares about students who don’t speak English, and he understands that their future depends upon them learning English, staying in school, getting jobs, and becoming productive citizens,” Wyland said of Noonan, under whom test scores have shot up at most heavily Latino schools in his district.

But bilingual education advocates said that asking the Oceanside superintendent —- whose district runs no bilingual education programs and has been investigated by state and federal officials for its treatment of bilingual education —- to testify about a bill on bilingual programs is wrong.

Noonan’s district has not offered bilingual education programs since the passage of Prop. 227, making him unqualified to talk about the pros or cons of such programs, said Mary Hernandez of Multicultural Education, Training and Advocacy, spokeswoman for a group representing some bilingual parents.

Noonan said that’s silly.

“I guess that means anyone who’s never run an English immersion program is not qualified to talk about how well they work or don’t work,” he said.

Oceanside has also been the subject of two separate investigations, one from the U.S. Department of Education and one from the state education department, for its Prop. 227 enforcement procedures. The federal investigation ended last year and found the district had adequately addressed parents’ concerns that the district was inconsistent and unresponsive when dealing with parents who wanted bilingual education for their children. The state investigation is ongoing.

Wyland’s bill could go before the Assembly later this spring if it makes it through the education committee on Wednesday.

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

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