An aggressive campaign to inform parents in San Bernardino city schools of their options under Prop. 227, has prompted hundreds of parents to sign waivers requesting that their children remain in bilingual classes.
Prop. 227, passed in June, requires students to be taught “overwhelmingly” in English. However, parents may seek waivers from primarily English-only classes if their children already know English, are at least 10 years old, or have “special needs.”
Some pockets of protest have emerged elsewhere in the Inland area but few districts have actively spread the word and some including San Jacinto and Moreno Valley do not plan to educate parents about the waivers until more classes begin.
At Longfellow Elementary School in Riverside, where more than 400 pupils are not fluent in English, only two parents have signed waivers. Another 98 have indicated that they want their children to be immersed in classes where English is the predominant language.
Longfellow Principal Margie Herrera said, “Many parents are pleased with the English immersion program we’re offering. They’re happy to see their children learning more English.”
Christa Wallis, program specialist in the 45,000-student San Bernardino City Unified School District, said administrators began holding parent meetings while many districts were still scurrying to interpret Prop. 227. They have established a bilingual task force and a parent advisory committee, which sent newsletters to families in multiple languages.
“We’re a very progressive district,” Wallis said. “Some districts are just sitting, waiting to see what happens. But we’re taking a proactive stance.”
Maria Esther Velasquez, a representative for the advisory committee, said she educates other parents about their choices each day when she picks her children up at school. She has signed waivers for her two youngest children.
“I want them to be be able to express themselves in both languages so that they can keep our culture, and so that I can be close with my kids,” she said. “I think that bilingual is the future for the whole world.”
Rae Belisle, legal counsel to the state Board of Education, said that while 31 school districts have requested waivers from the law’s requirements, the reaction among individual parents in San Bernardino is unusual.
“I haven’t heard of that many parents doing this anywhere else,” she said.
On Thursday, a judge ruled that the state Board of Education must consider a school district’s request for a complete waiver, which would let it keep its entire bilingual program.
So far, the parents of 334 San Bernardino pupils have signed waivers for bilingual classes. Parents of 34 students have selected English immersion. That is only a taste of what school officials expect. They still have not heard back from parents of more than 10,000 limited-English speakers.
“We’ve always thought, `Imagine if we can get a waiver mania going,’ ” said Patricia Padilla, secretary of the district’s parent bilingual advisory committee. “Sometimes when I pick my kids up at school I hear parents saying, `Oh, this is the end of bilingual education.’ But I just butt in and say, `No you need to get a waiver.’ “
The forms do not specify the reasons for which the parent is asking for a waiver. That decision will be made by school administrators who review the requests.
The only other Inland area school reporting a large number of waiver requests is Birney Elementary School in Colton, which has received 25. None has been approved yet. Each parent cited “special needs” as the reason for wanting their child in bilingual classes.
Under the law, “special needs” can be physical, emotional, psychological or educational.
Sheri Annis, spokeswoman for Silicon Valley millionaire Ron Unz who authored Prop. 227, said any district collecting armfuls of waivers from parents has not done a thorough job of explaining the measure.
“This just shows that even after a law has been passed by the majority of voters, the school bureaucracies refuse to change,” Annis said.
She said the Unz camp is concerned about educators and activists advising parents to request bilingual classes for their children. Annis said her office already has received phone calls from concerned teachers in Oxnard who are complaining that people are handing parents waivers that are filled out.
Leslie Pulliam, district assistant superintendent, said that while the San Bernardino district has rushed to educate parents about their choices under the law, officials have refrained from telling parents what to do.
“We have some parents who are practically begging us to tell them what to do, but we say, `We can’t tell you,’ ” Pulliam said. “We’re just presenting them with what their choices are and what the time line is. After that, it’s in their hands.”