If Proposition 227 passes on June 2 – and if it’s upheld by the courts – it has the potential to dramatically shrink bilingual education programs in California.

But a few may survive.

Parents would have the option of signing waivers to have their children placed in bilingual classes. But the waivers would be granted only under the following circumstances:If students are 10 or older.

If they already know English.

Or, if they have special needs that could not be met in a regular, English-only classroom.

However, before a `special needs’ waiver could be granted, the child would have to be enrolled in an English immersion class for at least 30 days.

Here are some other key elements in the initiative:

  • Students who are not fluent in English – they’re referred to in the measure as “English learners” – would be enrolled in an English immersion program. They would generally be in the class for no longer than one year. The immersion program would be taught using techniques such as repetition of key vocabulary words; use of visual aids and demonstrations; and frequent previews and reviews of lessons.
  • Once youngsters have a “good working knowledge” of English – a decision that would likely rest mostly with parents, principals and teachers – they would be placed in regular, English-only classrooms.
  • If a student is denied the option of enrolling in an English class, the parent or guardian may sue, and any school board member, teacher or administrator who `willfully and repeatedly” refuses to implement the terms of the law could be held personally liable for damages.
  • To encourage adult family members to learn English – enabling them to better help their youngsters – the initiative calls for the allocation of $50 million per year, for 10 years, to fund English language instructional programs for adults.

While the initiative has fueled local concerns among parents and school officials – some, for instance, have wondered if the measure would permit parent-teacher conferences to be conducted in Spanish – backers insist that it doesn’t forbid the use of a foreign language in the classroom.”You teach the child primarily in English, but you can certainly use Spanish or whatever language it is to help the children understand the English language,” said Sheri Annis, press secretary for the initiative campaign.

Once a child is placed in a mainstream English class, all instructional materials – including textbooks – would be in English and most, if not all, of the teaching would be in English. But there could be special help, such as tutoring programs, if students need assistance in keeping up with the class, Annis said.

If the initiative passes, it will be the responsibility of the State Department of Education to enforce the law, she said. But the measure does not include any provision for monitoring districts to make sure they comply. From a practical standpoint, that means parents would be the ones serving as watchdogs.”To make sure the schools change their ways, a lot of the onus will be on the parents and the community,” Annis said.

The initiative campaign was launched by Ron Unz, a Palo Alto software entrepreneur and former Republican gubernatorial candidate. He says he got involved after reading about a group of poor, Los Angeles parents who staged a boycott of the school system because they were unhappy with the district’s bilingual program, and wanted their youngsters enrolled in English classes.

Other supporters include Gloria Matta Tuchman, an award-winning first-grade teacher from Santa Ana who is now running for state schools superintendent and Jaime Escalante, the well-known educator whose achievements were highlighted in the movie “Stand and Deliver.”

The mayors of Los Angeles and San Diego also have come out in support of the measure, Annis said.

Groups opposed to the iniative include the California Teachers Association; the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund; state schools Superintendent Delaine Eastin; and several individual teacher associations and school boards, including the vast majority in Santa Barbara County.

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