Oceanside defends English immersion

Superintendent to appeal state complaint, if board approves

OCEANSIDE — The 22,000-student Oceanside school district is preparing to wage a David and Goliath struggle against the state — in defense of its celebrated English immersion program.

Superintendent Ken Noonan will appeal a state report critical of services to English learners if he receives approval tonight from the school board. The state complaint has riled the board’s trustees.

“As far as I’m concerned, they have not given the credit to our program that they should have,” said trustee Emily Wichmann. “They’re just turning their back at success because of what their little office of education thinks . .
. We’re fighting for local control.

Earlier this month the Education Department issued a report criticizing the school district’s English immersion program. The complaint accused the district of violating the rights of English learners by restricting access to alternative programs such as bilingual education.

District spokeswoman Cindy Sabato said the district had addressed most of the Education Department’s concerns in a master plan implemented in August.

“It (the report) doesn’t reflect our current program,” she said. “It reflects a program that existed 10 months ago.”

“We’re following the spirit of (Proposition) 227,” said trustee Wichmann.

Two points of contention remain:

That the district did not establish an alternative program besides English immersion for mostly Spanish speakers.

That it did not follow its own policies in granting or denying waivers.

The report does not diminish Oceanside’s success on the state test of basic skills, where English learners have made significant gains.

Because the Education Department’s top leadership campaigned against Proposition 227, trustees are vexed with doubts about the office’s impartiality.

“When you’ve got a good thing going, why mess with it,” said board President Roy Youngblood. “We’ve still got people up in Sacramento who are thinking along the lines of the old bilingual program.”

Noonan said the report omitted the improved performance of his English learners.

“If you read the report it sounds like our students are in a deep dark hole,” he said.

Proposition 227, the voter-approved California measure requiring that students be taught overwhelmingly in English, included a clause providing for the exemption of some children from English-only instruction.

Schools must provide an alternative such as bilingual education if waivers are granted to at least 20 students in a grade level. Oceanside Unified,
unlike many districts across the state, denied most waivers — essentially throwing out bilingual education.

The Oceanside district received 144 waiver requests last year and rejected all but seven.

The results of the yearlong investigation by the Education Department were released earlier this month in response to a complaint filed in July 1999 by the United Coalition for the Education of Our Children, a group of parents seeking continued Spanish-language instruction for members’ children.

Two San Francisco-based legal groups — Multicultural Education, Training &
Advocacy Inc. and California Rural Legal Assistance — filed the complaint on behalf of the parents’ coalition.

Although the district had failed to put some policies in writing, Noonan said, most of the state’s findings either didn’t jibe with the law or didn’t take into account the current program. “We’re asking them to come down and meet with us, go line by line through the findings and go over what evidence they have, because we don’t accept their findings,” said Noonan. “We don’t buy it.”

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