Saddleback school board backs bilingual program at Gates

Meanwhile, the Santa Ana Unified panel discusses filing papers in Prop. 227 challenge.

The Saddleback Valley Unified school board gave the green light Tuesday to preserve an elementary school’s Spanish-English language program outlawed by Proposition 227, even if it means creating a charter school.

The board approved proposals for Gates Elementary in Lake Forest, which provides a dual immersion program that teaches simultaneous fluency in Spanish and English.

Prop. 227 requires instruction to occur overwhelmingly in English, effectively outlawing the program at Gates and nearly 100 other California schools with dual-language immersion programs.

“I think it’s in the best interests of the district and the best interests of this program that we pursue all options,” said Superintendent Peter Hartman.

Meanwhile, the Santa Ana Unified school board on Tuesday night discussed whether to file a friend-of-the-court brief in connection with challenges to Prop. 227, which critics charge denies equal education opportunities to students with limited English proficiency. Santa Ana Unified has more bilingual education students than any other Orange County district and would have to spend a minimum of about $2.5 million to conform to Prop. 227.

“The cost for an amicus brief would not create a hardship, considering the cost to implement Prop. 227 in a district like Santa Ana,” said parent Teresa Farias.

The Saddleback board backed the following plans to allow Gates to continue its program:

Creating a charter school, which is exempt from the state Education Code, including Prop. 227.

Creating an alternative school that waives some state rules at the discretion of the state superintendent of schools.

Appealing for individual student and schoolwide general waivers from the state Board of Education, which meets Friday to hash out its interpretation of the proposition. Under Prop. 227, students must wait 30 days to receive a waiver, which Gates parents said will hurt the dual immersion concept.

The board voted 5-0 for the charter and 4-1 for the alternative school. Board member Debbie Hughes opposed the alternative school because, she said, most alternative schools are for at-risk students and she didn’t want to stigmatize the program at Gates.

But, said board member Nancy Kirkpatrick, “You gotta shoot the shotgun if you hope to get that skeet.”

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