Angry parents confront school board

Language: Adults question putting English-speaking pupils in bilingual classes.

Peach Hill School parents, angry about their children being included in bilingual education programming, confronted trustees at the Moorpark Unified School District board meeting for more than an hour.

About 15 parents took issue with their native English-speaking students being in bilingual classes.

Trustee David Pollock said the school does both bilingual education and English immersion, where non-English speakers are put in classes where only English is used.

According to Debbie West, a parent on the Peach Hill School Site Council, the school now has 170 English language learners — children who are not proficient in English. Only 465 students attend the school, a small number for a kindergarten to third-grade school in Moorpark. She said the district’s attempt to deal with this problem a few years ago — changing boundaries in order to have more language learners at other schools — “didn’t correct anything.

“There are no changes, there are still fiascos and more heated parents,” said West, who has been on the council for several years.

Michelle Kay, who has twin second-graders at Peach Hill, said she is concerned with low test scores at the school, the result of having a large percentage of students who have to take the test in English and don’t perform well.

She asked the board if bilingual education is still in use in the district when the state “voted against it in ’98.”

Pollock said Wednesday that the law, Proposition 227, did not “outlaw bilingual education,”but is merely trying to “force a change in the culture to give full immersion an opportunity to work.”

Currently, he said, English language learners at Peach Hill are put into English immersion classes for the first month and thereafter, they are defaulted into further English immersion classes unless parents sign a waiver asking for traditional bilingual education.

The parents Tuesday said they don’t believe this is what is happening at Peach Hill, claiming few waivers were signed for traditional bilingual education, yet classes are still being taught.

Peach Hill Principal Marilyn Eubanks assured parents after the meeting that there should be a waiver for each child in bilingual education, Kay said.

West said she was between classrooms and heard a teacher speak Spanish for an hour and a half to a bilingual class.

“We’re catering our education to the lowest common denominator,” said Donna Masek, a parent at the meeting. “You’re hurting bilingual children as well. They need a classroom of their own.”

Masek said she hasn’t spoken to the school about the problem for fear of being labeled a racist.

In response, Pollock said Wednesday he believes it would be irresponsible not to give a child some support in his or her primary language. And, while he believes every student should be taught differently and no single way of teaching English language learners should emerge over the other, he sympathizes with the parents.

“We’re finding that ELL students at Peach Hill are not scoring as high as ELL students at other schools,” he said. “If I were a parent, I would be at that board meeting, too.”

While district officials said it isn’t possible to address the problem immediately, they said it is a top priority.

“It troubles me what’s happening,” said Superintendent Frank DePasquale. “We pride ourselves in equity in this district. What you are saying is that it might not be true. I am personally intervening.

“There will be some need for students to have Spanish-language instruction, but the focus has to go back to English-language development.”

DePasquale said he will be attending a Sept. 25 school site council meeting to make a plan and a timeline in which to implement that plan at the school.

Board member Gary Cabriales said bilingual education has done well for students in the past. As example, he used the Moorpark High School Academic Decathlon team that won the national championship in 1999. The team, he noted, was a diverse group of individuals who were products of bilingual education.

“In the end, it’s been proven in Moorpark that no matter what side you come up on, you can be successful,” he said.

— Molly R. Okeon’s e-mail address is [email protected]

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