At One School, a Third Opt for Bilingual Classes

Prop. 227: Nearly 200 pupils at Santa Ana's Harvey Elementary switch to native-language instruction after a waiting period.

Nearly a third of the students at Harvey Elementary in Santa Ana resumed bilingual education Monday, representing the county’s largest parental rejection so far of the state’s new regulations against native-language instruction.

Under Proposition 227, which mandates that limited-English speakers be taught mostly in English, parents have the right to request a waiver that would allow their children to transfer to a program taught in their primary language.

At Harvey Elementary, 186 of the school’s 600 pupils switched over to a bilingual program Monday.

“It was like the second opening of school today,” Harvey Principal Christine Anderson said. Still, far fewer are in bilingual education than last year, when the figure was 80%.

Proposition 227 allows school districts to provide alternatives to English- only programs. But all students must spend the first 30 days of the school year in English immersion classes. During that time, schools and parents can work out waiver requests.

At Harvey Elementary, that 30-day period ended Thursday. Within two days, the school reconfigured classrooms to swiftly place children in their respective programs by Monday.

Although this week’s transition was smooth, preparing for the classroom changes had been a stressful experience for school officials and families, Anderson said.

That’s because teachers must start off the school year teaching a class that could change completely a month later, she said. Also, children who end up in a bilingual classroom must begin anew after adjusting to the previous teacher.

“Imagine, they’ve just gotten used to the new school year, made new friends and love their teacher, and all of a sudden they have to go to a new class,” Anderson said. “Even though it’s for a good reason, it can be hard on children.”

Since the start of school Sept. 8, Harvey Elementary officials organized 10 meetings to counsel parents on which instructional programs would best suit their children’s needs.

Many parents kept their children in the English immersion program. Others opted for the bilingual classes. And some wavered.

“In some cases, parents filled out a waiver form and later came back to say they had changed their minds,” Anderson said. “This is a very personal decision.”

And although she’s pleased that the new law permits schools to offer parents instructional choices, Anderson added that the 30-day requirement can be taxing on teachers and children.

Although Proposition 227 allows districts to provide native-language and other types of instruction, districts are not obligated to provide such alternatives or approve waiver requests.

“The law is not forcing districts to do what parents want,” said Fred Tempes, the state Department of Education’s director of school and district accountability. “Districts are certainly free to offer alternatives, but they are not required to do so. It’s really a local control issue at this point.”

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