A divided community in the county’s largest school district has begun the process of changing the way it teaches English to Spanish-speaking students.

By law, the 50,000-student Santa Ana Unified School District must eliminate bilingual instruction and begin teaching English immersion to students by Sept. 1 at year-round schools and Sept. 10 at all other schools.

Just how that will work is unclear.

This week, the school board began ordering new textbooks, training teachers and informing parents about the instructional changes. Curriculum specialists are preparing sample lesson plans for the district’s newest teachers.

Nativo Lopez, president of the school board, wants to hold individual parent meetings in their native languages to explain how students can qualify for alternatives.

Parents may obtain a waiver if their child demonstrates fluency in English, has special needs or is at least 10 years old.

Lopez said he fears parents in the district, where 71% of students have limited English ability, won’t understand the nuances of the new law.

“What has occurred here is a radical, radical change of our instructional emphasis,” he said. “I believe we have the burden and the responsibility to explain it to parents and be sure they understand.”

The anti-bilingual education state ballot initiative, Proposition 227, was approved by 61% of voters in June.

Jim Colon, a supporter of the measure and school board candidate, called Lopez’s suggestion a delaying tactic.

“Procrastinate no longer. Do the right thing: Obey the spirit of the law,” Colon said.

The school board is expected to approve a plan to implement English immersion at its Aug. 25 meeting.

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