Bilingual vote draws strong local reaction

Some praise the ruling, but others fear it will lead to English-only instruction.

New flexibility for bilingual education was called by Inland area educators on Friday both a welcome move to empower schools and a scary slide toward English-only classrooms.

Some applauded the state Board of Education’s vote Thursday to end its decades-old bilingual education policy requiring students learning English to be taught in their native language.

“I’m thrilled,” said Riverside school board member Dana Kruckenberg. “It really does say that schools will honor the request of parents who want their kids taught in English. “

Others said the end of rules calling for state permission to use English-only classes may make it too easy to scrap native-language instruction.

“Those districts who’ve been wanting to get out of the bilingual education business will see it as a perfect opportunity to do that,” said Pete Loza, a bilingual teacher at Moreno Valley High School.

Administrators and many school board members from Colton to Moreno Valley to Murrieta pondered the decision but had no plans to abandon native-language instruction. Riverside Unified School District administrators told principals Friday that the decision will mean no immediate changes.

California’s basic bilingual education law expired 11 years ago.

But state law still requires native-language instruction “when necessary” to provide immigrant children with an equal chance for academic success.

On Friday, state Department of Education lawyers huddled, looking for ways to make sure anti-bilingual districts don’t eliminate services required by federal law.

How the decision relates to federal and other state requirements concerned Betsy Sample, director of Limited-English Proficient Services for Riverside schools. Her district’s bilingual program is being monitored by state and federal officials in the wake of past problems, including lack of services for English learners.

“It’s all very confusing because there’s competing philosophies, and we’re at the bottom of all of this with kids sitting in front of us,” Sample said.

The state board’s 10-0 decision comes as voters consider Prop.

227, a measure to restrict bilingual education. The June 2 measure proposed by software millionaire Ron Unz would place English learners in classes taught “overwhelmingly” in English for about one year. Parents could seek waivers.

The board’s action was lauded by both sides of the Prop. 227 debate. A spokeswoman for Unz said an expired law should not be followed. Holli Thier, spokeswoman for No On Unz, said the move supports opponents’ view that “school districts should not be mandated to use one type of teaching” as Unz proposes.

The decision’s element of local control won wide praise – to an extent.

“Based on what I understand, we can do what we want to do and that’s the way it should be,” said Moreno Valley Superintendent David Andrews.

Guy Romero, director of instructional services for the Murrieta Valley Unified School District, agreed.

“Anytime that you are allowed more local control, there’s power in that,” Romero said. “The downside is making sure no one ideology that might be a minority opinion prevails. I would hope that people still design programs that have the kids’ best interests at heart. ” About 3 percent of Murrieta students are limited-English speakers.

But bilingual teachers such as Elva Silva, who teaches third grade at Riverside’s Bryant Elementary School, are worried about local control.

“It’s good if the local school board supports bilingual education,” Silva said. “I feel it would be very frustrating to teach in English-only when that is not the child’s primary language. “

One parent with concerns about bilingual education wished the board’s decision to stop requiring waivers by school districts applied to her.

“I shouldn’t have to sign a waiver just because I don’t want my child in a bilingual class,” said Yolanda Pasillas, a Fontana mother of three. “It would mean less of a hassle. “

Fontana school board member Kathy Binks has heard concerns that students learning English are not moving fast enough to regular English classrooms. She doubts Fontana will alter its bilingual teaching but welcomes the new flexibility.

“I think this district runs a great bilingual program with what we have,” Binks said. “But maybe we need to look at some of the concerns I’ve heard from the teachers and parents. “


Staff writers Joanna Frazier, Sherry Parmet, Amita Sharma and Wendy Wilson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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