Parents of children in Redwood City elementary schools got a first glimpse of life after Proposition 227 on Wednesday, and many were unhappy with what they saw.

More than 150 parents and students crowded into a Redwood City Elementary School District board meeting to decry the new law and ask questions about what children will face when school starts Sept. 8.

The new state mandate, which took effect Aug. 2, requires non-English-speaking students to be taught predominantly in English.

As if in testimony to the difficulties ahead, most of the 25 parents in the largely Latino audience who addressed the board spoke in Spanish. Their remarks were translated into English.

“It’s very important for children to know two languages — not only for themselves, but for the country,” said Rosa Sosa, whose two daughters attend bilingual classes at Fair Oaks Elementary. “My nephew is afraid to go to school — he won’t understand anything.”

Said Julio Garcia, a community organizer and activist against Proposition 227: “We plan to put pressure on the district. The board belongs to the people — and here are the people.”

About half of the elementary district’s students speak limited English, and Superintendent Ronald Crates acknowledged in an interview before the meeting that the new school year would be challenging.

“It’s a huge shift,” he said. “What we’re going to do is try to remain calm.” Crates said the district would try to give parents as much flexibility as possible while following the law.

Immersion for 20 days

When school starts, all limited-English students will be placed in English immersion classes for 20 school days until parents decide whether their children should continue in those or join bilingual classes, Crates said.

The immersion classes will be taught almost entirely in English, but teachers will use “sheltered” instruction techniques — such as using pictures and other aids to help students understand at least part of their lessons.

Then, students will go from class to class as parents choose between traditional bilingual education and English immersion classes. Parents may renew their child’s participation in bilingual classes each year if they come to school in person to obtain a waiver, Crates said.

Crates predicts — and parents worry — that students will lose learning time as they change midstream.

“That’s the kicker,” he said. “After 20 days, all these classrooms are going to change. How many there are, we don’t know.”

The district has trained hundreds of teachers in “sheltered” instruction, he said.

Practice varying widely

With little help so far in interpreting the new law, school districts vary widely in how they put Proposition 227 into practice.

Crates said there was no move within the district to resist the controversial mandate, although some other school districts have contemplated changing their schools to charter schools or alternative schools to be allowed under state law to continue the bilingual education they believe is effective.

Some parents at the meeting said they hope the district changes its tack. They urged the board to consider joining a lawsuit filed by school districts in San Jose and San Francisco to eliminate the 20-day preliminary placement in English immersion classes. They also want the board to apply for alternative school status so bilingual programs could continue.

The district board listened to the parents’ suggestions and is scheduled to look at the proposed Proposition 227 policy again on Wednesday.

Waiver request must be heard

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