OCEANSIDE — Maria Corona held a candle last night in hopes of lighting what she considers dark days for her granddaughter’s education.

The first-grader at Palmquist Elementary school doesn’t speak English, but under Proposition 227 most Spanish has been banned from the classroom.

“We want bilingual classes,” Corona said in Spanish. Because her granddaughter doesn’t understand what’s going on in class, she said, “She’s falling behind. She’s being traumatized.”

Corona’s candle was one of about 60 that lit up the sidewalk in front of the Oceanside Unified School District office last night. The United Coalition for the Education of Our Children held its third such protest vigil preceding a meeting with school board members and principals to discuss how to educate their children in the era of Proposition 227.

The state law passed by voters in June abolishes most bilingual education programs in public schools, unless parents obtain special waivers for their children from their school districts.

The coalition’s demands include a bilingual education program that teaches their children in both English and Spanish and an explanation from the district of what educational programs are available.

The parents also want to choose whichever program they consider best, and they want a program that does not separate their primarily Spanish-speaking children from fluent English speakers.

Oceanside Superintendent Ken Noonan said the district is only following the new state law.

“I can say that many of the people in the group appear to be misguided by their leadership. Some people don’t even know it’s (English-language teaching) the law,” Noonan said. “I think there’s a lot of naivete about what the law represents.”

Noonan, a former bilingual teacher and co-founder of the California Association of Bilingual Educators, said fewer than 10 parents in Oceanside have applied for waivers that would exempt their children from the law and allow them to continue to learn in Spanish. None have been acted on yet. About 1 in 5 of the 21,000 students in the kindergarten- through 12th-grade district are non-English speakers.

Oceanside’s approach to implementing Proposition 227 differs sharply from neighboring districts, where thousands of students continue to learn from teachers speaking in Spanish.

“If other districts have offered it (continued bilingual education), why not Oceanside?” asked Reyes Rodriguez as he joined the march.

Proposition 227 allows exceptions from English-only instruction if parents can make a case that their child has special physical, psychological, emotional or educational needs.

For example, in the Vista Unified School District, parents for more than 3, 000 of the district’s approximately 6,500 non-English-speaking students have applied for a waiver to allow their children to continue to receive instruction in their primary language, almost always Spanish. No waiver applications have been rejected.

In the kindergarten through eighth-grade Escondido Union School District, 454 of the 492 students whose parents applied have been granted waivers. About 6,800 students of the district’s 18,000 students are classified as limited English proficient.

And in Carlsbad, 225 of the district’s 950 non-English speakers have applied for waivers, and 165 of the applications have been approved. Those who tested high in English fluency were recommended for more English- intensive classes.

Districts also distributed waiver applications differently. In Vista, all parents who attended special Proposition 227 presentations at schools received an application. Others received them at home.

Oceanside schools also held explanatory meetings. The schools had no waiver applications available then, Ditmar Principal Sherry Freeman de Leyva said, because the backlogged district print shop had not yet produced them.

Parents who wanted an application were invited to return to the school to pick them up.

“This is a process that is discouraging people from obtaining this waiver,” said Ismael Aviles, leader of the parent coalition.

The requirements that parents visit the school to pick up the waiver application, meet with teachers and articulate their child’s special needs are too much for some parents who would like to see their children continue to learn in Spanish.

“We’re talking about something close to or near the (difficulty of the) entrance exam for UCSD,” Aviles said.

Noonan responded, “I know they’re saying we’re making it difficult, but we’re doing it exactly as the law says.”

School board President Emily Wichmann acknowledged the difficulty of learning a second language and said Spanish-speaking children, like all children, will learn faster if their parents get involved.

“Part of this is the responsibility to help their children,” she said.

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