With a court ruling in their favor, Oxnard and Hueneme elementary school districts could receive a one-year exemption from a new state law banning bilingual education.

A judge ordered the State Board of Education on Thursday to consider requests from 38 districts to keep bilingual education programs in place for now. Voter-approved Proposition 227 calls for eliminating such programs.

Oxnard and Hueneme have applied for one-year exemptions to design better programs, the district superintendents said Thursday. Since the 1998-99 school year is already underway, officials say the two districts will continue with their Proposition 227 compliant programs and hope their request for waivers will be granted soon.

Hueneme Supt. Robert Fraisse said he was pleased that waivers will be considered and would be on the phone today assessing the chances of his district’s request.

But conservative activist Steve Frank, who campaigned against bilingual education, criticized the waiver decision as flaunting the will of the voters while shortchanging students.

“The request for the waiver shows the arrogance of the education industry toward the voters of California and the school districts,” Frank said. “The losers in all this aren’t the voters or the taxpayers, it’s the students.

“They’ve held back two generations of students and now they’re going to hold back another,” he added.

Classes, which began Tuesday in Hueneme, are being conducted in compliance with Proposition 227. While Fraisse praised the district’s staff in preparing for the new English-dominant curriculum, he said having the extra year to plan would result in a better program for Hueneme’s 3,200 students, 38% of whom speak primarily Spanish.

“I can’t say in good conscience that we are doing as good a program in 60 days than if we had a year,” Fraisse said. “Right now we’re doing it cold turkey.”

Getting the state to respond to Hueneme’s request could take time, maybe more time than it’s worth, Fraisse said.

“We may be past the fail-safe point and may not be able to switch gears,” he said, adding that Hueneme will probably decide in the next few days whether to pursue a waiver or go ahead with Proposition 227 mandates.

Oxnard also applied for a waiver to gain more time for planning, Assistant Supt. Richard Duarte said. The district’s multitrack, year-round schedule meant school started earlier than in other districts, leaving less time to adjust to Proposition 227 mandates.

Duarte said the district will also need time to analyze the effect of Thursday’s ruling, but that the district could be too far along to revert to the bilingual programs in place before the June 2 passage of Proposition 227.

If the state grants Oxnard’s waiver, Duarte said, the district may not need the entire year to return to compliance with 227. Oxnard may be ready by the start of the second term in February, he said.

Duarte also praised his staff members, whom he said had developed an immersion program in time for the school year.

Parents in Oxnard are also seeking waivers. As allowed by Proposition 227, parents can seek to remove their children from the English-immersion programs.

Already in Oxnard parental waivers have been sought for more than 3,000 of the district’s 16,000 students, Duarte said. Eighty percent of the district’s students are Latino; 50% speak limited English.


Times staff writer Coll Metcalfe contributed to this story.

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