Vote On Bilingual Education Waiver For Orange Unified Delayed A Month

Schools: State Board's decision to postpone action means no changes can be made to program before classes start in July.

SACRAMENTO—The state Board of Education on Friday delayed for a month a vote on Orange Unified School District’s proposal to dump its bilingual education program in favor of instruction dominated by English.

The board postponed taking action after state education staffers, who oppose the change, and Orange Unified officials skirmished over the merits of the proposal.

“I think this matter is so sensitive and so political that additional time would be time well spent,” said state Trustee Kathryn Dronenburg, who professed to being inclined to give the district a waiver from state bilingual education
rules.

The delay means the district won’t be able to begin the switch when classes resume in early July. But district administrators said they are “poised and ready” to begin the transition as soon as the state board gives its OK.

Orange Unified, with 29,000 enrolled for the coming school year, wants to become the largest district in California to win a waiver from traditional bilingual education.

The district’s program would require children to be taught in English, with some classroom help from bilingual aides and after-school tutoring. The district also plans a program for pre-kindergarten children as well as summer school English courses.

State education department officials say the district failed to spell out details such as how the program will be evaluated and who should decide if a student needs extra help in their native language. There also is no mention of training that would be required for bilingual aides or what kinds of native- language instructional materials would be available, officials said.

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An attorney for the school district, meanwhile, complained that state education staffers have been difficult to work with and questioned the “objectivity” of the department in dealing with the Orange Unified proposal.

Celia M. Ruiz, the district’s attorney, said criticism of the district’s plan is unfounded and that the theories underpinning the new program have been tested before in classrooms. She also said the courts have deemed that such programs are acceptable under the state’s bilingual education rules.

The Orange Unified proposal has prompted howls of protest from parents with children in the current bilingual classes. It also pushed one school administrator to quit.

Pam de Loetz, who has administered the bilingual program for the district since 1992, quit her job in fury over the situation last week. De Loetz told the state board that the district has completely ignored parents who want their students to study core subjects in Spanish until they master English.

More than 800 parents in the district signed a petition expressing concern about the changes. They have complained bitterly about being brushed aside when the decision was made and argue that the new proposal is racist and unfair.

Several of them piled into a van at 3 a.m. Thursday morning to make the drive to Sacramento for the Board of Education hearing. They came away with the impression that the decision has already been made.

“I just don’t think they paid enough attention to it, as they should have,” said Juan Carlos Ayala, one of the opposition leaders. “It just seemed that all this . . . has happened down here, and it just funneled up there. . . . It seemed like their minds were really set.”

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Ayala said the group discussed their options on the way back. “There is backup,” he said, declining to go further. But some parents have in the past talked openly of launching a legal battle if the bilingual program is squashed.

Currently, the district offers Spanish-language instruction to children in kindergarten through second grade. Last year, about 1,200 students in the district were in Spanish-language classes. Another 6,800 students who speak 39 other languages are in some type of program for students with limited English proficiency, district officials said.



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