Pro-bilingual parents not surrendering

EDUCATION: Petitions asking local school districts to preserve the programs despite adverse state decision will be circulated today.

Parents in Fullerton, La Habra and Santa Ana have begun grappling with the state Board of Education’s decision this week to no longer require California school districts to seek approval to drop bilingual-instruction programs.

In Fullerton and La Habra, pro-bilingual education groups will meet today to circulate a petition asking their school districts to preserve bilingual education.

In Santa Ana, an informal group of about 20 Hispanic parents met Friday at the Delphi Community Center to discuss the decision and how it impacts their efforts against Proposition 227, a statewide initiative sponsored by Palo Alto software millionaire Ron Unz that would mandate that all schools teach students in English after one year.

“We don’t have all the concrete information about this new ruling, but be sure we are going to work hard to keep bilingual education,” said Santa Ana parent Mariua Torres, who has three children who have completed a bilingual program.

Meanwhile, Conrad DeWitte, a member of Concerned Parents and Citizens of Fullerton, a grass-roots group working for back-to-basics educational reforms, said the state board’s decision will embolden his group to lobby the Fullerton school board more aggressively for a move away from bilingual instruction.

“The argument before has been, ‘Our hands are tied by the state,’ ” he said. “Now we can say, ‘Your shield is gone.’ We can get down to business now.”

Across Orange County, a variety of parents, school officials and community members tried to understand the impact of the state board’s landmark decision Thursday that it has no authority to order local districts to teach children in their primary language.

A Sacramento Superior Court judge, in a lawsuit challenging a waiver granted to the Orange Unified School District, had earlier ruled that the state board couldn’t grant waivers because the bilingual requirement the board was waiving had lapsed in 1987.

The decision probably will not have much immediate effect in Orange County, where only 13 percent of the county’s 134,000 limited-English students received instruction in Spanish and other languages last year.

But it left many administrators sitting tight and waiting Friday as Department of Education lawyers huddled in Sacramento, looking for ways to make sure anti-bilingual districts don’t eliminate services required by federal law.

“It’s too premature, we’re waiting for some direction from the state Department of Education,” said Alan Trudell, spokesman for Garden Grove, where half the students come to school with limited English proficiency but only a handful are enrolled in bilingual programs.

“We’re waiting to see what happens,” said Gail Reed, director of English Plus programs for the La Habra City school district. “We’re also waiting for (the vote on) Proposition 227.”

In Los Alamitos Unified School District, coordinator of special projects and instructional media Elaine Hamada said the district has about 200 limited-English students out of a student body of 8,300.

“As far as our district is concerned, we’re not doing anything because we have such a small population. There really isn’t an impact.”

Pro-bilingual education parents in Fullerton and La Habra said they hope their petition will save programs in their schools.

“We want to show the local districts that they must meet the needs of their community,” said Jimmy Ramos, a leader of the Fullerton pro-bilingual forces. “They have to take care of the business of educating children, not this political show.”

Ramos said he hopes to gather as many as 200 people from across the county for a 24-hour fast at the end of March to protest the Unz initiative.

Register staff writers Mayrav Saar, Tony Prado, Andrew Tuttle and Muhammed El-Hasan contributed to this report.

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