It has been one year since the state Department of Education stopped regulating bilingual education, but that hasn’t kept local school districts from teaching non-English-speaking students in their native tongues.

State control over how California’s 1,100 school districts educate their Limited English Proficiency, or LEP, students ended June 30, 1987 with Gov. George Deukmejian’s veto. The bill would have reauthorized the Department of Education to issue detailed regulations concerning teacher credentialing and training and the curricula for bilingual classes.

However, state and local educators stress that the expiration of the old law did not lessen the responsibility of local school districts to provide non-English-speaking students with “equal educational opportunites.”

That obligation is guaranteed by a series of federal-court rulings beginning in 1975 that require all schools to make programs available for students with limited or no English skills.

“Essentially, bilingual instruction is still required for Limited English Proficiency students in the state,” said Terry Delgado, a consultant to the state Department of Education. “School districts are still faced with a situation where they need well-trained teachers to provide that instruction, both in English and the primary language of students.”

Delgado said the state makes sure that districts identify students for special programs and provides guidelines to help schools implement programs.

The demise of some state regulations hasn’t reduced the need for special programs for immigrant students from Mexico and dozens of other countries. But local district administrators maintain that the lack of rules from Sacramento has freed them to use their staffs better and tailor their programs to student needs.

“It’s given us more flexibility,” said Betty Poggi, director of English as a Second Language and Bilingual Programs for the Santa Ana Unified School District.

Santa Ana enrolls 20,000 students with limited English proficiency, the highest percentage of any large school district in the state, she said.

Poggi said the district is particularly pleased that the expiration of regulations ended what many teachers considered an onerous requirement to obtain a bilingual-teaching certificate. The regulation forced teachers who could not pass difficult Spanish proficiency tests to seek annual waivers from the state.

This allows districts to draw up plans calling for their own mix of programs and lets teachers instruct non-English-speaking students in a variety of programs, including Spanish and other foreign languages, “total immersion” English and English as a Second Language, or ESL, said Gloria Tuchman, an ESL teacher in Santa Ana and member of a US Department of Education advisory committee on bilingual education.

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