State contends Oceanside is illegal on bilingual policy

Finds English-deficient students restricted

Oceanside schools violated the rights of English-deficient students by improperly restricting their access to bilingual education, the state Education Department said yesterday.

A yearlong investigation by the department found that the Oceanside Unified School District illegally avoided its obligation to establish alternatives to English immersion for students who are not native English-speakers.

Proposition 227, the voter-approved California measure requiring that students be taught overwhelmingly in English, included a clause providing for the exemption of some children from English-only instruction.

Under Proposition 227, schools must provide an alternative such as bilingual education if waivers are granted to at least 20 students in a particular grade level at a school. Federal law imposes additional requirements,
according to the Education Department report.

Oceanside received 144 exemption requests last year and rejected all but seven. Unlike other districts statewide, Oceanside now offers only a smattering of instruction in any language other than English.

The district violated its own policies for granting waivers, systematically denying them even when teachers suggested that alternative programs were more appropriate, according to the 97-page report.

Moreover, Oceanside schools failed to offer English learners an educational program comparable to that of native English-speakers, at times neglecting such areas as social studies and science, the report found.

This is the first investigation to be completed by the Education Department regarding a complaint over a school district’s implementation of Proposition 227. Complaints are pending elsewhere in the state.

The complaint was filed in July 1999 by the Unified Coalition for the Education of Our Children, a group of parents seeking continued Spanish-language instruction for members’ children.

Two San Francisco-based legal groups — Multicultural Education, Training &
Advocacy Inc. and California Rural Legal Assistance — filed the complaint on behalf of the parents’ coalition.

“Because of the rapid implementation of Prop. 227, we really didn’t have time to put in clear criteria right off the bat,” said Oceanside school district spokeswoman Cindy Sabato. “That has been a second thought for us.”

Sabato said the district has addressed most of the concerns in a “master plan” that was prepared after the state Education Department visited Oceanside schools last January.

The master plan was put in place in August, and is expected to be approved formally by the school board on Oct. 10, Sabato said.

“We agreed that most of the findings were in fact true at the time of the investigation, and we’ve tried to be proactive in addressing them at the start of the school year rather than waiting until their investigation was done,” Sabato said.

One point of contention is the Education Department’s assertion that the district should have established alternative programs for English learners.
The district and the state each have a different interpretation of the law.

“We’ll review this report line by line, and we may still challenge some of their conclusions,” said Oceanside Superintendent Ken Noonan.

The district has 60 days to respond to the report.

Deborah Escobedo, a lawyer for Multicultural Education, Training & Advocacy Inc., said she had mixed feelings about the report. She said she is pleased with the findings, but regrets that “kids in Oceanside have suffered for two years.”

A random sample of 18 waiver applications provided by the district showed that school staff often denied waivers because the students were reported to be making progress, according to the report.

In most cases, the Education Department found documentation on these students insufficient, and in some cases the school district did not verify that the students were succeeding.

Among the other findings in the report:

Oceanside schools lack parent advisory committees for English-deficient students.

The district lacks written descriptions of program options and educational materials for English learners.

The district failed to establish educationally sound criteria to determine placement of such students.

The district failed to establish criteria for determining the effectiveness of programs for English learners, aside from standardized test scores.

Doug Stone, spokesman for the state Education Department, said the investigation was not about the debate over English immersion vs. bilingual education, but whether Oceanside is following state and federal laws, as well as its own policies.

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