Santa Ana Unified School District tonight begins studying how it will implement Proposition 227, which gives a limited-English student one year to become proficient. According to the preliminary plan:
- All children initially would be placed in either an English-mainstream or English-immersion program for 30 days to test their skills.
- Parents of children in English immersion would be told of their right to request a waiver allowing them to place their child in an alternative program, such as bilingual education.
- Students who fail to become fluent after a year of English immersion could be re-enrolled for a second year.
- Teachers and mentor teachers at all schools would get increased training in English-immersion methods.
SANTA ANA–Santa Ana Unified’s preliminary plan to implement Proposition 227 includes a requirement that parents of limited-English children be given a written explanation of their right to opt out of the one-year English-immersion model that state voters approved in June.
The plan, which will be presented to the school board tonight, comes amid concerns that limited-English students in Orange County’s largest district of Spanish speakers will be at a disadvantage as bilingual education comes to an end in September.
Nativo Lopez, Santa Ana’s board president, said he will insist on one-on-one meetings with every parent to inform them of the waiver options.
“There’s no word in Spanish for waiver,” Lopez said. “The concept isn’t there. So schools have an obligation to have individual conferences with parents, in clear and simple language – in the primary language of the parent – to inform them of their rights under the new law.”
All students will begin the school year with a 30-day evaluation of their language skills in English classes. After that, the law permits parents to sign a waiver to move their child into an alternative teaching method such as bilingual education. Students eligible for waivers include those who are fluent in English; who are 10 years or older; or who have special educational, physical or emotional needs.
In Santa Ana, English-only classes begin Sept. 1 in year-round schools and Sept. 10 in traditional schools – if the board approves the preliminary policy by Aug. 25. Santa Ana schools are still teaching in Spanish and English.
Some parents say the district’s early emphasis on waivers is a telling sign.
“Judging from the board’s initial actions, they’re trying to thwart the intent of Proposition 227,” said Jim Colon, a parent with four kids in the district, who is running for a school-board seat. “Their hope is to bring all the parents in and encourage them to apply for waivers.
“It was incredibly difficult to move a child to English immersion before,” Colon said. “You had to prove yourself to administrators.”
Santa Ana Unified Superintendent Al Mijares boils down the debate to public trust in schools.
“If you look at it logically, who else is more qualified to explain to parents their options?” Mijares said. “If you can’t trust the establishment, you can bring in community people. You can bring in ‘Yes on 227′ people, and you will still run into problems.
“Teachers are fully certified – trust them and believe that they’re going to do the right thing.”
Joe Tafoya, Santa Ana’s superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said waivers come with logistical complications. Students may be switching classes, changing teachers or jumping year-round schedules to get the programs their parents want. Educators say the disruption after the 30-day period can cause a break in learning and interrupt a student’s relationship with the teacher.
“These are the nuts-and-bolts questions that we still need to answer,” said Tafoya, “and there are educational concerns. We don’t feel it’s educationally sound for a child to have three different teachers in one year.”
At Pio Pico Elementary, where 98 percent of the students don’t speak English well, teachers, administrators and parents are considering applying for charter status. That exempts schools from the state Education Code, including Prop. 227.
Fernando Duran, Pio Pico’s assistant principal, said discussion of a charter school started about a year ago – before 227 qualified for the ballot. But district officials say the anti-bilingual law might have accelerated charter talks at that school.
“We feel the charter will give us more flexibility and more responsibility,” Duran said.
“It has nothing to do with 227.”