ANAHEIM—A proposal to reduce the bilingual education program in the Anaheim City School District and encourage all students to learn in English drew more than 150 people Tuesday night to debate.

School board member Harald G. Martin made the proposal to redirect limited English speaking students into classes taught in English. Some bilingual classes would continue to be offered to give families an option.

The board requested the staff to prepare a report on the number of students in the district who successfully transfer from bilingual classes to English ones and on the legality of changing the current system. That report is due sometime in February.

Martin said he initiated the discussion because students aren’t learning English fast enough, and some of the people at the meeting agreed.

Roxie Speer, a parent, presented the board with a 400-signature petition from Parents and Teachers for a Successful Future, a group that supports eliminating the district’s bilingual program.

“We believe it places a ball and chain around the legs of our Spanish students for the first three years of their schooling and drives a wedge between Spanish- and English-speaking students,” Speer said. “We strongly urge the board to follow in the footsteps of the Westminster, Orange and Magnolia districts and do whatever it takes to dismantle our current bilingual program.”

But George Martinez, 19, a former bilingual student in Anaheim, said learning the basics in Spanish gave him a strong base for academic success.

“Most parents now demand their kids be taught in English because they fear they’ll be dragged down and not learn the language,” said Martinez, a freshman at Chapman University. “Parents feel English only will put their kids ahead. But in reality, it’s better for kids to learn basics in Spanish first.”

The district’s nearly 18,000 limited-English students now attend classes in their primary language and move into English classes after about three years, Supt. Roberta Thompson said. Without the program, children would be trying to learn basic concepts in an unfamiliar language, she said.

Martin said that under his proposal, bilingual education still would be available.

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