Prop. 227 poses questions even for the old pros

Four O.C. districts, English-only pioneers, re-evaluate.

Four Orange County school districts—Westminster, Magnolia, Savanna and Orange Unified—were pioneers in the movement against bilingual education that led to the passage of a ballot measure mandating that students be taught in English.

But even those ahead-of-the-curve districts, which already have English-only instruction, have been forced to re-evaluate what they do in the wake of Proposition 227 to ensure that their programs comply with the new law.

Can aides still address students in Spanish and Vietnamese?Can students still be pulled from regular class for intensive English-language development?These and other questions get to the marrow of the districts’ policies.To undo certain practices would threaten years of work.

“After all we’ve been through, it would be a shame to have to change our program to meet the requirements of a new law that aims to do the same thing we’ve been doing for two years,” said Michael Verrengia, a Westminster school board member who helped lead the district’s fight for its state bilingual waiver.

The four Orange County districts were the first—and only—in the state to win general bilingual waivers from the State Board of Education before the passage of 227.Westminster was the first, gaining its waiver in January 1996 and then a renewal—which amounted to a permanent waiver—in January.

Tracy Painter, Westminster’s special projects director, said that chief among her district’s concerns now is the role played by its bilingual aides.

In the Westminster system, each aide undergoes intensive training with the teacher they will be working with in the classroom, so that both share the same methods and goals.The teacher instructs in English, while the aide conducts lesson previews and reviews in the students’ native language to make sure the concepts are properly digested by students.

“Our aides and the way we use them are a critical component of what we do,” said Painter, who was the architect of Westminster’s English-based instruction program.”It is our intent to have our children understand the ideas we teach them and not have them founder and be lost.But we have to determine if in doing that we are in compliance with the law. “

“We think we’re fine,” Painter said.”But we have to take a hard look and make sure. “

The district queried Ron Wenkart, the general counsel for the Orange County Department of Education.Also, a 20-member committee is launching a review of how the aides are employed as well as other 227-related issues.Painter said the committee probably will move immediately on one semantic front:
to change the terminology from “bilingual aides” to something like “English language development assistants. “

Verrengia even went so far as to place a call to Gloria Matta Tuchman to get a reading on how his district’s program stacked up against the initiative.Tuchman,
the Santa Ana educator who co-sponsored the 227 ballot measure along with Palo Alto software millionaire Ron Unz, told Verrengia that “we probably are OK,” he said.

Neil McKinnon, assistant superintendent for the Orange Unified School District, said he is confident that the Orange program in place passes muster under 227.

“We’re real clear about what we’re doing,” he said.”I’m pretty sure we won’t have to make any changes this year.But next year could be a different situation. “

After one year, Prop. 227 stipulates that students receiving help in their native language must be “mainstreamed” into classes with English-speaking students.

“But what does that mean? ” McKinnon asked.”Using a liberal interpretation, our students are mainstreamed right now. “

And under such a liberal interpretation, he said, limited-English students may still receive help such as previews and reviews in their native language and an hour of English-language development each day.

In the Magnolia School District, Assistant Superintendent Roberta Pantle said that she attended a back-to-school conference in Sacramento earlier this week and came away reassured that Magnolia’s program conformed to 227.”We feel that according to the information we’ve received that our program complies,”
she said.

Savanna officials were not available for comment.

Despite the extra work involved with reviewing their programs, officials like McKinnon said that task pales in comparison to what other districts are going through as they furiously prepare their own English-based programs for the first time.

“I’m having a wonderful summer compared to last year,” McKinnon said.”I don’t envy these other guys who are under the gun.It’s no way to put together something like this. “


Proposition 227, passed by California voters in June, contains the following provisions:

Requires that all public school instruction be conducted “overwhelmingly”
in English.This may be waived if parents or guardian show that child already knows English, or has special needs, or would learn English faster through alternate instructional technique.

Provides initial short-term placement, not normally exceeding one year,
in intensive sheltered English-immersion programs for children not fluent in English.

Appropriates $ 50 million a year for 10 years to fund English instruction for people pledging to provide English tutoring to children in their community.

Permits parents to file lawsuits to enforce the initiative.

Legal experts say school districts have significant flexibility in how 227 is implemented, as long as teachers teach in English.

Elements of the English-immersion programs that were common before 227 apparently still will be allowed, but only for one year for each student,

Lesson preview/review by bilingual aides in the students’ native language.

Instruction in English-language development.

After-school native-language tutoring.

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