Parental waiver provision: Loophole or last resort?

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Perhaps the biggest uncertainty hanging over Proposition 227, the law replacing bilingual education with a one-year English immersion program, is the issue of parental waivers.

Proposition 227 allows parents to ask that their child be placed in bilingual education 30 days into the school year. But the waivers can be granted only if the child is over 10, can already speak English or has “special needs.”

The effect of the waivers — loophole or last resort — depends on who is interpreting the phrase “special needs.”

The State Board of Education has said that districts will grant requests unless the principal and educational staff have evidence that the program request by the parent would not be good for the student.

But Proposition 227 campaign spokesman Sherri Annis says the exceptions are supposed to be limited, applying to perhaps 1 percent of the children in bilingual education.

“We’re finding huge violations of the law by principals and superintendents seeking waivers from their parents,” she said.

Proposition backers are waiting to see what happens, but they will take legal action if they believe the law is being broken, she said.

For local school officials, the waiver provision means they won’t know until October how their classes are going to shape up — whether they’ll be essentially staying with the English immersion program or trying to put together bilingual programs for parents who want them. Schools are only required to offer such classes if at least 20 students in a grade get waivers.

At the Campbell Union School District, parents have been invited to attend meetings in early September to talk about what they want to do, said Shirley Olson, director of district assessment and special programs.

“For most of our second language kids, the parents are very aware of 227. They know what’s going on. They know what’s happened,” she said.

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