Now that a federal judge has approved Proposition 227, local school officials say they are ready to implement programs that revamp the way they teach bilingual education.

Officials in the big school districts of Santa Rosa and Petaluma said Thursday they would be reviewing their bilingual programs this summer to determine their compliance with the proposition that restricts bilingual education.

The proposition, approved by state voters last June, had been blocked by court challenges lodged by opponents who said it would force schools to teach in language some students can barely understand. In general, it restricts bilingual education programs to one year before a student moves into predominately English instruction.

However, many school officials have been saying for months that they anticipated voter passage of the controversial measure and they have been examining how their own programs match up with the proposition.

Dale Vigil, the new superintendent of the Santa Rosa School District, said he was encouraged that the judge’s decision took special note of circumstances under which schools could conduct instruction in languages other than English.

“We will meet the intent of the law and meet the needs of our English language learners,” Vigil said. “There is some latitude for our primary language instruction and we will get an interpretation from our lawyers of what that means and take advantage of that.” U.S. District Court Judge Charles Legge said local school districts have “significant flexibility” in determining the best teaching method to use, so long as English remains the dominant classroom language. The proposition also allows parents to apply for waivers to enable their children to continue to receive bilingual teaching under limited circumstances.

Carl Wong, superintendent of the Petaluma School District, said his administrators would explore the use of teaching assistants and bilingual teachers who can provide personalized instruction to students who need extra help because they are not proficient in English.

“We will validate our emphasis on the majority of our instruction in English, and we will use supplemental instruction to help students bridge the gap between English and languages such as Spanish,” Wong said.

Because 79 percent of the 1.4 million California students with limited English skills speak Spanish, the controversy over implementing the proposition will largely affect families with origins in Latin America. However, in Sonoma County and other counties, the measure will also affect others who speak Asian languages.

In Sonoma County, about 8,200 of 71,000 students are considered “limited English proficient” and could be affected by program changes. The judge’s ruling allows the proposition to take effect Aug 2.

Wong said he and leaders in other school districts hope the state government allots several days early next semester for teachers to receive training during “in service” days on how their programs will need to change to comply with Proposition 227 provisions.

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