School district may challenge state complaint

Bilingual-education access at Oceanside campuses at issue

OCEANSIDE — Schools Superintendent Ken Noonan may challenge a state complaint that accuses his district of violating the rights of English learners by restricting access to alternative programs such as bilingual education.

A day after the Education Department issued a report criticizing the Oceanside Unified School District’s English immersion program, Noonan vowed that his celebrated program will remain. The state’s report stemmed from a yearlong investigation that found shortcomings in the school district’s academic instruction for English-deficient students and student access to alternative programs such as bilingual education.

That’s meaningful to many education watchers who have heralded the district for its gains by English learners on the state’s SAT-9 standardized test. The report, while critical, does not diminish Oceanside’s success on the test.

The district is expected to provide a response to the state within 60 days. District spokeswoman Cindy Sabato said administrators agree with most of the findings, and already have addressed them in a districtwide “master plan” implemented in August. She said the district was unable to put some of its criteria in place because of the rapid implementation of Proposition 227, which ended bilingual education except for students who could obtain waivers.

In bilingual education classes, Oceanside teachers typically taught academics primarily in Spanish while students learned English.

Two major points of contention remain. They are:

That the district did not establish an alternative program besides English immersion for mostly Spanish speakers.

That it did not follow its own policies in granting or denying waivers.

“The state Education Department appears to be saying something different than the law approved by 61 percent of the voters,” Noonan said. “Who’s got reins on this runaway train?”

Under Proposition 227, schools must provide an alternative such as bilingual education if waivers are granted to at least 20 students in a particular grade level at a school. Oceanside Unified, unlike many districts across the state, denied most waivers — essentially throwing out bilingual education.

The Oceanside district received 144 waiver requests last year and rejected all but seven.

Noonan said there were never enough waivers approved to establish a bilingual class for a particular grade. But the district had a plan for an alternative program had it been required to offer one.

The district’s plan is not good enough for the state, said one official.

“When you ask the parents if they want the waiver or not, you have to be able to determine the alternative in enough detail so that parents will know what kind of program they would have their children in if the waiver was granted, in terms of instructional materials and strategies,” said Stuart Greenfeld, director of school and district accountability for the Education Department. “That was not done.”

Noonan countered that district policies were followed when waivers were denied. Greenfeld pointed to a random sample of 18 waiver applications, which were denied because the students were reported to be making academic progress.

“But based on their documentation, there wasn’t anything definitive (regarding progress),” Greenfeld said. “In order to determine whether a student is making adequate progress, you have to have an assessment system in place that identifies the critical academic areas such as science, math, English.”

But Oceanside educators said they did have a thorough system for determining each case.

Ron Unz, author of Proposition 227, was outraged over the state complaint. He said the Education Department is biased against English immersion, which taints the investigation.

“The state Department of Education and its leadership have been vehement opponents of Proposition 227, and it’s extraordinarily deceitful of them to claim that they are the interpreters of a law they opposed,” Unz said.

The Education Department is trying to “re-establish bilingual education through the back door,” Unz said.

Noonan said he wants to meet with the state’s representatives and ask them to revisit the Oceanside district and go over the report item by item. If they don’t agree with his points, he will challenge the state complaint.

The state investigation was prompted by a complaint filed in July 1999 by the Unified Coalition for the Education of Our Children, a group of parents seeking continued Spanish-language instruction for members’ children.

Two San Francisco-based legal groups — Multicultural Education, Training & Advocacy Inc. and California Rural Legal Assistance — filed the complaint on behalf of the parents.

Comments are closed.