Oceanside plan designed to address violations

OCEANSIDE —- Trustees approved a master plan Tuesday designed to clarify and improve the school district’s program for English-language learners and to address violations reported by the state Department of Education.

The English Learner Master Plan outlines the way the Oceanside Unified School District teaches the language to students from homes where another tongue is spoken. The 33-page document puts into writing for the first time the way the school district follows Proposition 227, which state voters passed in June 1998 to limit bilingual education.

“English is the basic requirement for a successful education,” Trustee Janet Bledsoe Lacy said before voting for the plan.

A group of parents represented by two Latino civil rights organizations filed complaints last year with the state Department of Education and the federal Office of Civil Rights. The group alleged that the school district’s strict interpretation of Prop. 227 had denied their children a complete education.

More than two dozen of the parents attended Tuesday’s meeting, and nine of them spoke before the trustees. Several of them said the board has done little to address their concerns.

“We have rights, we have opinions that should be considered,” said Ismael Avilez, an Oceanside parent and a leader of the group.

A report issued Sept. 29 by the Department of Education found several violations by the district, such as the failure to have a clear language policy and the failure to provide adequate services to some English learners. District administrators have been working with state investigators during the past year and agree with most of their findings, Deputy Superintendent Carol Dillard said.

The district has addressed most of the state’s concerns with changes made this school year and included in the master plan, Dillard said. The changes included the establishment of new “bridge” classes for students who have finished the initial one-year “immersion” language classes but are not ready for mainstream classes with students and teachers fluent in English.

Many school districts have granted some students waivers to Prop. 227 that allow them to continue in bilingual classes. Oceanside Unified is one of the few districts that has granted fewer than the minimum of 20 waivers required for a bilingual class.

Achievement-test scores have improved dramatically as a result of the district’s policy, administrators have said. The strongest growth, as shown by the Academic Performance Index used statewide, has been among English learners in Oceanside schools.

Laurel Elementary, for example, showed the greatest growth in the district,
the fifth greatest in San Diego County. Laurel’s index score was 585 points this year, a 120-point improvement. The school’s enrollment is 64 percent English learners and 92 percent minority students.

The achievement test gains show the district is “breaking down the myth”
that some students can’t learn, Superintendent Ken Noonan said.

Trustee Emily Wichmann said some parents will never be happy unless bilingual classes are re-established. She suggested to the parents that they consider starting a charter school for dual-language education.

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

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