SR School's Parents Seeking to Keep Bilingual Ed

Board Will Weigh Lincoln Elementary Waivers for all Four Grades

Santa Rosa’s Lincoln Elementary School parents may become the
first in Sonoma County to create bilingual classes at their school
under the waiver provisions of Proposition 227.

The Spanish-speaking parents already have signed the minimum
number of waiver requests — 20 in each grade, K-3. But they must
wait until next month to learn the fate of their requests.

The city’s Board of Education is scheduled to consider what
criteria to use for approving or denying waivers Oct. 14.

The parents hope their waivers will be approved.

“I do like bilingual education,” said Silvia Guzman, who signed
waivers for two children. “I don’t think the kids are as confused as
when they learn only in English.”

Last June, the state’s voters approved Proposition 227, which
requires teachers to instruct second-language students primarily in
English. The law allows parents to seek waivers under three
exceptions:

For children who are 10 years or older.

For children who already know English as well as the average
student in their grade.

For children with “special physical, emotional, psychological or
educational needs.”

Of the three exceptions, parents of children under 10 are expected
to seek waivers primarily because of educational needs.

During the campaign over the initiative, the two sides fiercely
debated how many students actually could be eligible for exemptions.
Opponents, including educators, said few students would qualify.
Proponents suggested parents would be able to choose which program
best suited their children.

In the coming weeks, school officials around the state will
wrestle with which students qualify for waivers.

County Schools Superintendent Tom Crawford said Lincoln is the
only county school that already has more than 20 waivers at a grade
level.

“They’re going to pop up all over,” Crawford said.

Top Santa Rosa administrators said it is too early to discuss what
criteria the school board will set in regard to waivers. But
officials have indicated clearly they want to offer bilingual
instruction in city schools.

They intend to include bilingual education as one part of their
revised plan for teaching second-language students. The school board
is expected to review that plan next year.

Part of the huge response by Lincoln parents occurred because
Superintendent Dale Vigil went to the school earlier this month and
talked in Spanish with parents about the available programs and the
district’s waiver process.

“It was standing room only,” Vigil told the school board Wednesday
night.

Board members didn’t discuss the number of Lincoln waivers
Wednesday. But they want to ensure that all parents of second-
language students are aware of the waiver process. Board President
Hugh Futrell also advised administrators “not to get so far ahead of
the board” that new programs are under way before elected officials
set policy for them.

Nearly 1,500 of the district’s 5,000 students had limited skills
in English last year. Of those, more than 1,200 were
Spanish-speaking students. The district hasn’t had a formal
bilingual program, officials said, but some schools offer varying
amounts of instruction in Spanish.

Among the schools, Lincoln school has offered students more
instruction in Spanish. Parents are familiar with the approach and
understand students won’t learn only in that language, said Principal
Akiko Leister.

“I think the parents realized we’re always building the children’s
English skills,” she said.

Parents said Wednesday they want their children to retain the
ability to speak their native language.

“We want him to speak both languages fluently,” Virginia Lopez de
Rabago said in Spanish, of her 9-year-old son Jose Manuel.

“If he learns only English, how are we supposed to communicate
with him? How are we going to help him with his homework?”

Lincoln has enough bilingual teachers to add the classes in all
four of the early grades, Leister said. Officials acknowledge other
schools have fewer qualified teachers. But if 20 students per grade
qualify for the exemption at a school, they said, the district
somehow must provide the alternate program.

Parent response has been mixed among the district’s other schools
with large numbers of Spanish-speaking students. About 54 percent of
Brook Hill School’s students speak Spanish — the same as Lincoln.
But Brook Hill Principal Karen Arter said she’s heard few parents
discussing waivers.

“I thought there’d be more talk about it here, too,” Arter said.

Parents will learn about the waivers tonight when elementary
schools around the district conduct their back-to-school nights.

“We want to really have the parents come is so we can explain our
programs,” said Monroe School Principal Stephen Nielsen.

About 35 percent of Monroe’s students speak Spanish as their
primary language. Nielsen plans to have one meeting on the various
programs for them tonight at school and another Oct. 6 in the Apple
Valley neighborhood.

Burbank School Principal Jane Escobedo said she probably will hold
a meeting with parents next month. About 46 percent of her students
are Spanish speakers.

Staff Writer Maria T. Garcia contributed to this story.



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