Board rules may diverge from Proposition 227's intent

SACRAMENTO — The state Board of Education has approved temporary regulations to allow local school districts a "flexible interpretation" of Proposition 227, a measure that forbid leeway in its goal to eradicate bilingual education.

The rules approved Thursday retain local control of education and gives districts freedom to adopt programs that fit their needs, said Bill Lucia, the board’s executive director.

"I’d say it’s a flexible interpretation," board President Yvonne Larsen said. "We’re trying to provide flexibility for programs that have parent support."

The school board gave parents some leeway under the waiver provision of Proposition 227. The measure, which passed June 2, requires all students be taught in English.

While Proposition 227 required parents who wanted to keep their children in bilingual classes to provide evidence that the program benefits the child’s education, the board’s emergency rules appeared to shift that burden to the schools.

"Our target is to be protective of parents," said board vice president Robert Trigg.

The rules approved Thursday ensure schools will approve waivers unless they can provide "substantial evidence" the requested alternative program is not suitable for the child, the board said in a news release.

"It does sound like there might be a difference between that and what the initiative called for," Ron Unz, the software millionaire who authored Proposition 227, said Friday.

Unz said he would reserve judgment until the board released a copy of the emergency regulations. They were expected to be issued next week.

The rules go into effect Aug. 2 and expire 120 days later, meaning the board will have to approve permanent guidelines in the fall. The measure gives school districts 60 days to implement the policy, which essentially does away with California’s 30-year-old bilingual education program.

A lawsuit seeking to overturn the measure was filed in federal court the day after the primary. A hearing is scheduled for July 15 in San Francisco.

While this has thrown many school districts into chaos, it was business as usual on Friday in Pat Donovan’s kindergarten class at David Reese Elementary School.

About one-third of the school’s 1,060 students speak one of a dozen different languages. After English, Vietnamese is the most common language, followed by Spanish, Hmong and Cantonese. Students are instructed in English and get help on the side from bilingual associates.

Proposition 227 has not David Reese and many schools in the rest of the state are scrambling to catch up.

"It’s successful because the kids achieve in the end," said principal Roberta Carroll. "It takes a little while but they achieve. That’s what we’re here for."

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