County educators say they'll be ready to teach kids in English

Even if many of the details of Proposition 227 remain unclear, educators say they will be ready to teach children in English when year-round schools open in little more than two weeks.

“Bilingual teachers are going beyond the call of duty to make this work,” said Carmen Torres, who teaches at Oxnard’s Kamala School.

Torres’ expectation that she will have to change her instruction was confirmed Wednesday, when a federal judge in San Francisco refused to block the proposition requiring that limited-English speakers be taught overwhelmingly in English. School districts fighting the proposition also lost another round on June 26, when the state Board of Education said it would not grant any waivers to school districts seeking delays or exemptions.

About 25,000 children in Ventura County’s public schools have limited proficiency in English, and the highest number — about 7,000 — are enrolled in the Oxnard School District.

Oxnard district officials have walked both sides of the fence, hoping for a court reversal but preparing a contingency plan. They are training teachers, holding parent meetings and preparing sample lesson plans. They must be ready by early August, when the initiative takes effect for year-round schools. It takes effect in September for schools on traditional calendars.

Ventura Unified School District, which has year-round schools starting next month, is ready, too, said Assistant Superintendent Pat Chandler.

Other districts, though, have delayed training teachers, informing parents and buying books pending the court ruling and development of state guidelines.

Moorpark administrators will meet Aug. 12 to figure out how they’ll handle the law, Assistant Superintendent Frank DePasquale said.

Like others, the district will let parents know they can choose bilingual classes for their children and give teachers more training.

Robert Fraisse, superintendent of the Hueneme School District, said the vagueness of the initiative and legal questions meant no quick decisions could be made.

“Our teachers will do whatever it takes to be ready for the kids, but it’s not going to be easy,” he said.

Ultimately, parents have the final say on whether to keep their children in bilingual programs. The initiative allows them to sign a waiver, but they must do it in person at the school. They must also leave children under age 10 in an English immersion program for 30 days before making that decision. Oxnard officials said they won’t know how many opt out until October, but they expect a large number.

In the Rio School District, where one-third of students speak limited English, administrators will meet with parents in open houses next month to explain their options.

“We need to meet the needs of the children, as well as the law,” said Superintendent Yolanda Benitez.

Kamala School’s Torres said about 100 parents turned out for a meeting Tuesday night on the issue. Teachers are prepared to work before school, after school and on Saturdays to help parents who come in to sign waivers, she said.

Kamala teacher Marti Barrett said the initiative means more work for teachers and less help Spanish-speaking parents can give their children.

“It’s going to be hard,” she said. “If kids succeed, it’s not because of 227, it’s because of the teachers.”

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