Parents, Kids Seek Waivers for Dual Immersion

More than 400 Attend a Meeting to Voice Support for Two South County Language Programs

State Supt. of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin met with more than 400 south Orange County students and parents who turned out Monday to support two popular English-Spanish immersion programs at local elementary schools.

Speaker Norma Rojas, a Latino parent from San Clemente, told Eastin that she enrolled her son in an immersion program at Las Palmas Elementary to “give him an opportunity that was never given to me.”

“I don’t speak or write English well,” Rojas, her voice breaking, told a rapt audience at Wood Canyon Elementary School in Aliso Viejo. “If I had the opportunity, maybe I would have gotten a better job. Please grant the waiver so the program will give my son an opportunity to speak and learn English.”

In July, the Capistrano Unified and Saddleback Valley Unified school districts voted unanimously to seek waivers to help save the popular dual-language immersion programs at Las Palmas and Gates Elementary in Lake Forest.

The waivers are necessary to operate the programs after the passage of Proposition 227, which ended bilingual education in public schools. “Without the waivers, the programs would cease to exist,” said Julie Jennings, a Capistrano Unified School District spokeswoman.

More than 700 students are enrolled in the voluntary programs at Las Palmas and Gates schools, said Doreen Lohnes, Capistrano’s assistant superintendent of student services.

Dual-language immersion differs from bilingual education in that it is taught as a foreign-language program for students in kindergarten through sixth grade, Lohnes said. Student ethnic composition is split roughly between white and Latino.

“This is an attempt to let these children learn Spanish and English together in a program that also has a bicultural approach,” Lohnes said.

Monday’s meeting, Lohnes said, was an opportunity for the state superintendent to hear from parents and students, rather than just district officials.

Parent Janet Bower of San Clemente told Eastin of the sacrifices made by parents who must transport their children across town to participate in the programs, but she said the academic benefits make the effort worthwhile.

“The programs not only teach languages,” Bower said, “but they teach the children how to be sensitive to others. . . . The programs nurture future leaders with the gift and understanding of two languages.”

Eastin said her office will make a decision on the waivers before Sept. 10, the start of the school year.

To qualify for a waiver, a district must show that its program is not mandatory, that it was approved by district trustees and that guidelines for yearly academic evaluations exist, said Henry Der, the state’s deputy superintendent for public instruction.

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