ORANGE—In a rare display of unanimity by one of Orange County’s most fractious school boards, trustees of the Orange Unified School District voted Thursday to begin the process of phasing out bilingual education from their schools.
As a crowd of more than 200 parents, teachers and students packed the district headquarters, the trustees moved forward with a plan that would eliminate classes taught in Spanish over the next two years.
About 1,000 elementary students in the district are now taught in Spanish. Under the proposal, those students and their future classmates would instead be given accelerated English fluency classes.
The action was proposed by trustee Robert H. Viviano, a member of the board’s moderate minority, who said the bilingual education model is failing to teach students English fluency.
“I’m not against the bilingual program,” Viviano said. “I’m for English fluency because it is an essential tool to function in the marketplace. . . . If you teach in a foreign language, you can not expect the outcome to be English.”
The trustees directed administrators last month to research how they can obtain waivers from state laws requiring them to teach some foreign-speaking elementary students in their native language.
Opponents of the proposal said the plan is discriminatory and counterproductive. Several carried handmade placards with messages such as “How can my child read a language he doesn’t understand?” and “Let’s move ahead to a multicultural 21st century.”
Teacher Celso Rodriguez said bilingual teaching allows Spanish-speaking students to keep pace with their English-speaking peers as they learn their new language. He also pointedly asked the trustees why they were not targeting other tailored education programs, such as the advanced classes for gifted children or special education for children with learning disabilities.
“Will you be telling a gifted parent he no longer has that choice? I don’t think so,” Rodriguez said. “Bilingual education simply says, ‘Here’s another way.’ A successful way.”
Trustees also received a letter from members of the District Bilingual Education Committee, accusing them of ignoring their advice.
“It would be a traumatic and devastating experience to place such young children in a situation where they are made to feel their first language has no value and where they cannot communicate with the teacher and understand what the teacher is saying,” said the letter, signed by committee members Carmen Martinez, Roberta Andrade and Teresa Osorio.
The trustees invited all parents to participate in a process that will determine the future of the proposal. They also agreed to spend $ 90,000 to hire the consultants and attorneys necessary to seek the state waivers.
If the project stays on schedule, an English immersion program could begin this fall.