Lessons in Spanish are giving way to more English instruction as most Inland area school districts rush to comply with Prop. 227.
School districts such as Hemet, Lake Elsinore, Menifee, Murrieta, Temecula and Perris already have made or are making a quick shift to English immersion called for in the June 2 measure that restricted bilingual education.
“Up to now we were trying to provide as much primary language instruction to the younger children in kindergarten through second grade, then slowly transition them into English,” said Anthony Arredondo Jr., superintendent of the Perris (elementary) School District. “Our intention is to reverse the process.”
But as the initiative kicks in next week in some year-round schools, not all children learning English will see a big change.
Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District, which has a small limited-English-proficient population and very few bilingual teachers, has been teaching almost entirely in English already.
“We were nearly complying with what 227 asks for by default,” said Phil Mirci, an assistant superintendent.
In the Riverside Unified School District, bilingual teachers still will use Spanish up to 40 percent of the day in kindergarten and first grade. Corona-Norco and San Jacinto school officials are phasing in English immersion over several months. And teaching in the Alvord Unified School District will be virtually unchanged as officials craft a new bilingual plan that will not be ready for weeks.
Phil Stokoe, Alvord school board president, said it will take time to create a good program.
“We will do it, that’s the law,” Stokoe said. “But we want our kids to be successful.”
Gregory McGinity, senior policy consultant with the state Board of Education, said the state is flexible about start times and is not interested in penalizing districts.
“We’re not looking at finding every technicality and taking away their money and throwing out superintendents or anything like that,” McGinity said. “The question of trying to absolutely enforce this with an iron hammer at this point is not something that the state board is interested in.”
State officials also say that the state board’s guidelines — and Prop. 227’s language — fail to spell out how much of a child’s native language can be used to meet the requirement to teach “nearly all” in English.
The flexible rules have led to different approaches.
Last week, Riverside Unified came under fire from Prop. 227 author Ron Unz for a plan he says is “simply illegal.” Beginning Monday, the district will teach limited-English-proficient pupils in kindergarten and first grade with 60 percent English and 40 percent Spanish. The plan adds more English every year until the switch to all-English in fourth grade. However, Unz said 60-percent English does not meet the “nearly all” standard.
The plan is fine with teachers, who applauded when it was unveiled last week.
Andy Thompson, a teacher at Taft Elementary School in Riverside, praised the district for making sure English learners can still understand their lessons.
“No one is trying to duck from the issue,” said. “But you want something that’s workable.”
Meanwhile, teachers in Corona-Norco, Jurupa and Banning are anxiously awaiting word from administrators on how they will be asked to teach limited-English-proficient students.
“So many of us have our heart and soul into it,” said Cathy Trotter, a bilingual reading specialist at Home Gardens Elementary School in the Corona-Norco Unified School District. “We have people who are very concerned, but they’re just holding their hat and waiting.”
In Redlands, bilingual second-grade teacher Susie Gomez is not wasting time preparing for new methods. She already has begun teaching her Spanish-speaking pupils to read in English. Her school, Bryn Mawr Elementary, is among six year-round schools in Redlands Unified School District that will get rid of bilingual programs next week.
“I don’t see any point in waiting,” Gomez said. “This way, I’m getting them used to the idea and they won’t have to switch to English so suddenly.”
Officials in the Menifee Union School District responded swiftly to Prop. 227 by ending a five-year practice of busing all limited-English students to Menifee Elementary School, where all district bilingual education resources were concentrated at the state’s recommendation. Since Prop. 227 passed, about 100 of those students have returned to their neighborhood schools, said Superintendent Gary Cringan.
Lake Elsinore schools also are moving fast to transform their bilingual programs to English-only instruction with the help of bilingual aides.
“Our major interpretation (of Prop. 227) is that it is instruction in English, and that’s what we’re going to do,” said John Wise, director of administrative services.
Wise said the district plans to ditch its bilingual books and materials and purchase more English supplies. The district uses a year-round school schedule and is now in session, requiring teachers to change their methods during the regular term to meet the Aug. 2 deadline.
In Hemet, a new program of teaching English with help from bilingual aides was launched at Fruitvale and Hemet elementary schools, which opened for year-round classes this month.
Staff writers Kamrhan Farwell, Steve Fetbrandt, Joanna Frazier, Jennifer Leuer, Karin Marriott, Amita Sharma and Wendy Wilson contributed to this report.