Options to Immersion

Most local school districts have not reported the flood of requests for bilingual classes predicted by the new law's foes

Foes of Proposition 227, the controversial initiative that all but dismantled bilingual education in California last June, predicted there would be waiver mania once the first 30 days of English-only instruction had passed.

But now that the time is up, most local districts report relatively few requests from parents to take their children out of English-only classes and place them in bilingual ones.

Proposition 227 requires school districts to scrap their bilingual programs in favor of a year of English immersion for pupils who aren’t proficient in English. Parents are allowed to ask districts for a waiver that would return their children to a bilingual class after they’ve tried immersion for a month.

In the Norwalk-La Mirada school district, about 5,000 of more than 22,000 pupils are limited in English. Yet the district has received just 209 requests from parents for waivers, says educational services administrator Josefina Naya.

Most of the opt-outs go to Edmonson Elementary School. About 16 go to other schools, and their parents have been given the option of transferring them to Edmonson because there is no way to provide bilingual classes for them at their current schools, Naya says.

Bilingual classes

About 25 percent of ABC Unified’s more than 22,000 students don’t speak English. The district has received enough waiver requests from parents to form a number of bilingual classes, says the district’s special projects and services director, Eliya Obillo.

Most of those requests came from parents of pupils at Furgeson Elementary in Hawaiian Gardens. That school will have 12 bilingual classes. Niemes Elementary in Artesia will have 11 bilingual classes and Hawaiian Elementary in Hawaiian Gardens will have seven. All three schools will offer their classes in grades K-3.

Most of the requests came from parents of Spanish-speaking pupils, Obillo says.

“Most Asian families do not want them (waivers). We did not expect (them to ask), and that’s exactly what happened.”

Historically, only one school in Downey Unified, Gauldin Elementary, has had a bilingual program, although 5,362 of the district’s more than 20,000 pupils are not fluent in English. The district got more than 240 waiver requests, most from parents of Gauldin pupils. Most of Gauldin’s limited-English proficient pupils are now back in bilingual education, says Principal Yolanda Cornair.

Of the more than 107,000 limited-English pupils in Los Angeles Unified, 11,809 parents have requested waivers. Officials say 43 of the district’s more than 600 schools received waiver requests for more than 100 pupils.

In the Paramount Unified School District, elementary and middle schools are year-round, so the district was allowed to wait until next term to implement the measure. The term started Oct. 26, and officials predict few parents will ask for waivers.

Even if they do, Paramount will have no such classes available to them.

Interdistrict transfers

“We will allow them to seek interdistrict transfers,” says Scott Bohlender, curriculum and staff development coordinator .

There’ll be no bilingual classes available for the district’s roughly 7,000 limited-English pupils, Bohlender says, because the district had already decided to do away with them in favor of structured immersion before Prop. 227 came on the scene.

The district’s total enrollment is about 16,000.

After the initiative passed, Paramount officials had to modify the program only slightly to bring it into compliance, Bohlender says.

In Long Beach Unified, which hasn’t fully complied with 227, district officials are holding back on waivers, saying parents cannot waive their children out of a program that doesn’t yet exist.

More than 30 percent of Long Beach’s almost 90,000 pupils do not speak English fluently.

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