New pact in desegregation case

S.J. parents must obtain waivers for their kids to be in bilingual classes, as in Prop. 227

San Jose Unified School District parents must seek waivers if they wish to have their children in bilingual classes under terms of a new agreement in the district’s longstanding desegregation case submitted to a federal court judge this week.

The new stipulation between district officials and Latino plaintiffs is designed to bring the district more closely in line with the spirit of a new state law that replaces most bilingual education classes with English-immersion instruction. The agreement also modifies plans for construction of a new downtown school.

The passage of Proposition 227 last June put San Jose Unified in a bind. The district was required by federal court order to provide bilingual education to Spanish-speaking students. But that mandate ran counter to the provisions of Proposition 227, which banned most such programs and required that students be taught overwhelmingly in English unless their parents applied for waivers.

Under the amended stipulation, parents who visit their school, attend informational meetings and have an opportunity to seek both a bilingual and English-immersion class must sign waivers if they want their child to be in a bilingual program. Children in bilingual programs, however, will not be required to spend their first 30 days in an English-immersion program, as called for under 227. Likewise, non-English speakers in English-immersion classes will not be mainstreamed until district officials determine they are ready.

Francisco Garcia-Rodriguez, lawyer for the plaintiffs, said parents always had a choice of programs under the consent decree negotiated by the two sides. The amended stipulation, he said, guarantees that parents have all the information they need to make an informed decision about their child’s education.

“This is a very good deal for the plaintiffs,” he said. “Whether the state feels threatened by this or other parties feel that we’re ignoring 227, I have no control over that.”

In the same document, district officials said they are giving up plans to build a new downtown school adjacent to the Tamien light-rail station.

The announcement comes nearly two years after school trustees thought they’d found the ideal site. Trustees had hoped to work out a deal to build a school on Tamien station land owned by the Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority. The goal was to have a new school in place by fall 1999.

Instead the district will build two new schools at the present Horace Mann and River Glen campuses. Horace Mann, located at Seventh and Santa Clara streets in downtown San Jose, will be demolished, and a new multistory school will be built in its place. The dual Spanish-immersion program located at River Glen in the Willow Glen neighborhood will move north to Broadway Continuation High School.

The continuation school will be relocated, but a site has yet to be determined.

The change means the district will have to redraw school boundaries, since the old ones were designed to include a Tamien campus. Garcia-Rodriguez said the district must also find a way to address the needs of parents who had enrolled children at Hammer School on a temporary basis with the idea of later enrolling them at Tamien.

At the time the district announced the Tamien plan, it was trumpeted as a win-win situation for all. The district would get a new campus to relieve overcrowding in the downtown portion of the district, and the transit authority would have a model site where public transportation was located with housing and a school close by.

But negotiations stalled after officials in San Jose Unified realized they’d need a bigger parcel of land than originally proposed. Officials had hoped to build a school on just two to three acres, but after further study realized that a multilevel school would be too expensive. The transit authority was reluctant to offer more acreage because it was concerned that the loss of housing and parking would be too dramatic.

Negotiations resumed and continued through the summer, but transit authority spokeswoman Doreen Moreno said the agency never heard back from the district after a counteroffer was proffered in late August.

San Jose Unified has grappled for years with finding a site for a new downtown school. In August 1995, the district signed a letter of intent to purchase property on 17th Street owned by the San Jose Medical Group. But trustees later backed away from the deal, citing the high cost of the land. They set their sights on Tamien in late 1996.

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