Spanish Instruction May Be Phased Out

School: Trustees in Orange vote to explore issue after deciding bilingual system may not work.

ORANGE—Contending that bilingual education may be holding back foreign-speaking students, the Orange Unified School Board voted 6 to 0 Thursday to explore the possibility of phasing out Spanish language instruction.

The trustees directed administrators to study a proposal that eventually would end the practice of teaching some classes in Spanish while those students are learning English. Instead, the students would receive language tutoring and attend language classes after school and during the summer.

Trustee Robert Viviano, who said that he has studied the issue of bilingual education for years, said the proposal takes advantage of recent changes in state regulations that allow school districts to propose alternatives to what is called “transitional” bilingual education.

The district would need waivers from the state before it stopped teaching any basic classes in the students’ native language. The Magnolia School District in Anaheim and the Westminster School District already have received such waivers.

Proponents of bilingual classes have long held that students need to be taught in their native languages while learning English, so they do not fall behind other students in mastering the basic skills of reading, math and science.

But the trustees, backed up by some administrators, said that researchers have shown that the type of bilingual education Orange Unified has offered for 20 years is not producing successful results.

Children are simply not mastering English well enough under the current program to be able to seek professional and business careers in this country, Viviano said.

“We’re going to try to concentrate on the outcomes,” Viviano said. “English is the law of commerce, and we have to have these kids steeped in English if they are to excel in our society.”

Viviano emphasized that the move to an English immersion program was “not a political agenda.”

But Janette Perez, a bilingual teacher in Pomona who used to work in Orange Unified, told the trustees she was shocked at the proposal.

“I cannot believe the intolerance of this community to people who speak another language. It is almost criminal,” she said. “Children do not come to school to learn English–they come to develop their intellect. You’re crucifying them. If you put them in English only, they will never go to college.”

But parent Pat Geer said that because of language differences, her child’s elementary school was “almost segregated.”

“Right now we have so many things divided,” she said. “We have PTA meetings in just Spanish. . . . It’s so divisive at our school; everybody has their own language, and I think it’s like forced segregation.”

Under the terms of the proposal, the 1,300 students now being taught in Spanish would continue in that program for an additional two years or through the second grade, the last level at which the district offers transitional bilingual education.

New Spanish-speaking students would be tested and sent to pre-kindergarten classes, tutorials or summer and after-school courses of accelerated English language fluency.

The board requested a progress report on Feb. 13 and the final study in about 60 days.

Superintendent Robert L. French said there is no academic consensus on bilingual education. “You’ll get as much research on one side as the other,” he said. “There’s no conclusive evidence.”

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