GARDEN GROVE, CA—The torrent of students pouring out of new housing in western Santa Ana and southeastern Garden Grove is flooding the Garden Grove Unified School District with problems.

The new students are coming so quickly that district administrators estimate nine to 15 campuses will be overcrowded next school year and another 11 to 15 will be filled to capacity.

While the overcrowding presents one set of problems, the students’ backgrounds presents another.

Most of the children are non-English-speaking offspring of Asian and Latino immigrants. A little more than 6,000, or 17 percent, of the district’s 36,000 students are classified as “limited English proficient” by administrators. They speak 67 different languages and are spread from Anaheim to Westminster, from Cypress to Santa Ana.

But by far the largest concentration attend schools in western Santa Ana and southeastern Garden Grove — the same schools administrators say are overcrowded.

So while administrators work to ease overcrowding by reopening a school and juggling attendance boundaries and busing locations, they must also address how students in overcrowded schools are taught.

With the passing of Prop. 63 — the English-only initiative — in 1986 and Gov. George Deukmejian’s subsequent veto of legislation to extend the state’s bilingual-education law, local administrators are scrambling to find a way to effectively teach the growing numbers of non-English-speaking students.

The district will not simply drop bilingual education, as many opponents of Prop. 63 feared. Federal law and a body of US Supreme Court rulings mandate that students be taught in a language they understand while taking classes in English as a second language, said Laura Schwalm, director of educational services for the Garden Grove district.

Garden Grove officials believe they have the answer.

Two weeks ago, the district’s board of trustees approved an administration plan to break the old bilingual program into a four-tiered instructional system. Students will be on English skills at district assessment centers before they are assigned to one of the four levels. The plan also includes a new set of criteria for certifying bilingual teachers which would double the number approved to participate in the program.

Under the new plan, “all 6,000 students still will qualify, (but) the types of service will be different,” Schwalm said.

The expired state law required local districts to set up bilingual programs whenever 10 students who spoke the same language were enrolled in the same grade.

The Garden Grove district’s new plan will raise that requirement to 15. At first glance, it appears fewer students will be learning mathematics, science and history in their native tongue while also learning English. The higher requirement could mean more students learn subjects in English with help from teacher’s aides who speak the students’ language.

But Schwalm said the program is not designed to limit the number of children taught in Spanish — the only other language in which district texts are published. Asian and other non-English-speaking children have always been taught in English, with an aide who speaks their language present to translate difficult lessons.

“We want to make sure we have a uniform program . . . and that we meet the children’s learning needs,” Schwalm said.

For example, kindergarten children who begin learning in Spanish will continue in Spanish-language classes through second-grade, even if fewer than 15 Spanish-speaking students are enrolled in their class.

Under the expired state law, if the number of Spanish-speaking students dipped below the old 10-child requirement, they would be thrown back into an English-language class.

The result was that children were “ping-ponged back and forth,” Schwalm said. “Now, we should have more continuity.

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