Santa Ana Unified reigns as Prop. 227 waiver king

The district accounts for 80 percent of requests to opt out of English immersion.

SANTA ANA – Proposition 227 did not end bilingual education for 4,700 students in Orange County’s largest school district.

Santa Ana Unified accounted for about 80 percent of the county’s requests for parental waivers, which exempt students from the English-immersion classes required by the new law.

However, other districts with sizable numbers of limited-English students had only about a dozen waivers requests each. The disparity has sparked debate about whether Prop. 227, passed by voters in June, is being applied equally.

“You look at the number of limited-English students per school compared with the number of waivers, and you see a disparity,” said Santa Ana board President Nativo Lopez. “These are telltale signs that perhaps schools aren’t doing enough to explain the language, the law, the various programs available and the rights of parents.”

Lopez is visiting parents from 20 Santa Ana schools – some with large numbers of waiver requests, some with few – to see if they have been given enough information about Prop. 227 and its alternatives.

“I want to assure myself that parents feel comfortable,” Lopez said. “The majority of Santa Ana’s parents don’t feel empowered vis-a-vis the system. They don’t feel confident about dealing with the school system.”

Proponents of Prop. 227 say Lopez’s visits border on bilingual education advocacy. The meetings, they say, make parents more likely to ask for waivers.

“If you look at other districts in California,” said Santa Ana board member Rosemarie Avila, “you’ll see that where there isn’t a push for waivers, there aren’t as many requests.”

Under Prop. 227, parents can opt for a waiver from the law’s English mandate if their child meets certain criteria. Schools must create bilingual programs if 20 or more students at each grade level request an alternative to English immersion.

About 4,500 of Santa Ana’s waivers were for students in elementary grades, where most were previously in bilingual programs. Fewer than 200 waivers were requested at the intermediate and high school levels.

By contast, Garden Grove Unified had 12 waiver requests, although 22,000 of its students are classified as limited English.

Anaheim City School District, with about 12,000 limited-English students, also had about a dozen requests for waivers.

Placentia-Yorba Linda was the only other district with a large number of waiver requests – 800 out of 4,000 limited-English students.

“It’s a parental choice issue, and that’s popular these days,” said Judy Miner, a Placentia-Yorba Linda board member. “I’m glad the proposition left that option for parents.”

Garden Grove Unified sent letters to parents of limited-English students, explaining the new law and alternatives.

Only one school in Garden Grove Unified, Russell Elementary, held a parent meeting to explain waiver options, said district spokesman Alan Trudell. Russell, where about 90 percent of the students speak limited English, was one of the few schools in the distict that had bilingual programs before Prop. 227.

“Our district is not offering an alternative, or bilingual programs,” Trudell said. “We’ve told parents who have requested a waiver that we would help expedite a transfer to a district that did offer such a program.”

By contrast, Santa Ana schools held 173 general parent meetings, attended by 10,268 parents. They held 4,564 follow-up conferences for parents who wanted more information about alternative programs.

Prop. 227 proponents argue that principals in Santa Ana are pressuring teachers to get parents to sign waiver requests.

“He (Lopez) wants to know why some principals are not producing waivers,” Avila said.

Opponents say parents are choosing for themselves. Lopez points to June election results as an indicator of how Santa Ana voted on Prop. 227.

“The precinct reports show Santa Ana soundly defeated Prop. 227,” he said. “So you’d expect to see an equivalent number of waivers.”

Of Santa Ana schools which met more than 10 times with parents – King, Washington and Madison elementaries – not all had higher numbers of waiver requests. At Washington Elementary, 539 waivers were requested. Yet at Madison Elementary, only 31 waivers were requested even though both schools serve about 1,000 students classified as limited English.

“We had many parent meetings because we were afraid parents wouldn’t understand all the legal jargon in the letters we sent out,” said Marti Baker, Madison principal. “And we were very neutral in the process.”

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