Bilingual education faces test

COURTS: Orange district officials say a judge's ruling allows California schools to scrap such programs without state approval.

A Sacramento County Superior Court judge might have opened the door for school districts to dismantle bilingual education programs without approval from the State Board of Education.

Judge Ronald B. Robie has ruled that the state board’s decision last year to grant the Orange Unified School District a waiver from bilingual education so that it could institute an English-immersion program was “contrary to law. “

As a result, Orange Unified Assistant Superintendant Neil McKinnon said, the district _ and, potentially, all California school districts _ now are free from the sometimes onerous bilingual waiver process.

“We still have the obligation to serve these kids,” McKinnon said. “But this ruling backs our contention that we should have local control and be able to make those decisions ourselves about how to serve those kids. “

The ruling stemmed from a suit filed last year by a group of Hispanic parents and activists against Orange Unified and the State Board of Education. The suit sought to disallow the waiver granted by the board to the district and to force Orange Unified to return to a traditional bilingual instruction program.

The judge said the State Board of Education could no longer try to enforce an old state law requiring bilingual education because the law expired in 1986.

“We simply must demonstrate, as we always have had to do, that we are providing equal access to education for all students,” McKinnon said.

Bill Lucia, executive director of the State Board of Education, said the state board will meet next week to study the ramifications of the ruling. But he indicated the state board is unlikely to appeal the ruling, and may adopt provisions of the ruling as policy.


The State Board of Education will meet next week and weigh the ramifications of the ruling. Indications are that the board might discuss adopting the provisions of the ruling as policy.

The ruling might be appealed. If an appellate court upholds the ruling, it would then have the force of law.


Chronology of Orange County school districts’ move for bilingual waivers:

FEB. 1996: State Board of Education approves 22-month bilingual waiver for Westminster School District.

JAN. 1997: Magnolia School District receives temporary waiver.

Savanna School District receives temporary waiver shortly after.

Orange Unified School District petitions for waiver.

JULY 1997: Hispanic coalition files lawsuit, hoping to block Orange’s bilingual waiver.

JAN. 1998: Westminster is the first district in the state to receive a permanent bilingual waiver. The state board reserves the right to revoke the permanent waiver if the district fails to report test scores and assessment of students in English-immersion program.

MARCH 1998: Court rules state mandate for bilingual programs outdated and potentially eliminates waiver process for school districts wanting English-only instruction.


What are the rules that enforce bilingual education? How do school districts get waivers for bilingual education? What is the best way for non-English speaking children to learn the language? The Orange County Register, in its continuous coverage of bilingual education, hopes to answer some of those questions. Here are some previous stories:

GETTING WAIVERS: Orange school board approves English-only in schools. (Access No. 727983)

PETITION BLOCKED: Hispanic coalition files suit to block bilingual waiver. (Access No. 766575)

REACTION: Local school administrators discuss the lawsuit. (Access No. 766590)

WESTMINSTER: School districts follow English-immersion program set by Westminster School District. (Access No. 793333)

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