For months, Riverside teachers and principals have worried about the fallout from Prop. 227, the initiative that severely restricts bilingual education.

On Thursday, they applauded as Riverside school officials unveiled a plan they say abides by the new law while making sure children learning English don’t fall behind. Students will still receive some instruction in their native language.

“It’s not just a sink or swim,” said Pat Gaeta, a bilingual aide at Bryant Elementary School who attended the school board meeting.

The proposal calls for pupils with limited English skills in kindergarten and first grade to be taught 60 percent in English and 40 percent in Spanish. Spanish instruction would be used in language arts and another subject, usually social studies, said Betsy Sample, director of English Learner Services for the Riverside Unified School District.

As a pupil moves through grades, the level of English would rise. English instruction would reach 70 percent in second grade, 90 percent in third grade and 100 percent starting with fourth grade.

Riverside’s old bilingual education program started off with two years using 20 percent English instruction and 80 percent in Spanish. By fifth grade, teachers spoke English 90 percent of the time and switched to full English instruction for sixth-graders.

Administrators told the Riverside school board that their new plan would meet the requirements of Prop. 227, which calls for English immersion classes taught “overwhelmingly” in English. Last week, a judge denied an order that would have blocked enforcement of the measure. It goes into effect Aug. 2.

Riverside officials crafted their plan using the state Board of Education’s Prop. 227 guidelines, which give districts more flexibility than many initiative opponents expected.

Federal and state education officials monitoring the district after bilingual compliance problems in 1995 also like the proposal, school officials said. The state Department of Education and U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights approve of the district’s proposal and would not settle for less native-language help for limited-English students, said Assistant Superintendent Georgia Hill.

“They will not approve our plan unless they are assured English learners will not be left behind in our program,” Hill said.

The district’s plan also met with approval from school trustee Dana Kruckenberg, who supports immersion and backed Prop. 227. Kruckenberg praised administrators and added after the meeting that she would rather have 70 percent instruction in English during kindergarten and first grade.

“I’m comfortable with 60 percent, not only because that’s what we’re faced with legally, but also because it’s workable.”

The plan will take effect with year-round schedules beginning Aug. 3. It goes back to the school board in the fall for official approval.

While the elementary school bilingual programs will be different, the middle and high school services will be little changed. The district will keep its voluntary Newcomer program for limited-English proficient students. Officials will simply add waiver forms, which are allowed under Prop. 227.

Though the initiative says immersion is “not normally intended to exceed one year,” the state rules let students re-enroll in immersion classes until they achieve “reasonable” English proficiency. That level can be determined by state or district tests.

Sample said that, under the district’s criteria, the average English learner will need more than one year of immersion. That need allowed the elementary school’s four-year plan to move toward all-English classes.

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