SR School's Parents Seeking to Keep Bilingual Ed

Board Will Weigh Lincoln Elementary Waivers for all Four Grades

Santa Rosa’s Lincoln Elementary School parents may become the first in Sonoma County to create bilingual classes at their school under the waiver provisions of Proposition 227.

The Spanish-speaking parents already have signed the minimum number of waiver requests — 20 in each grade, K-3. But they must wait until next month to learn the fate of their requests.

The city’s Board of Education is scheduled to consider what criteria to use for approving or denying waivers Oct. 14.

The parents hope their waivers will be approved.

“I do like bilingual education,” said Silvia Guzman, who signed waivers for two children. “I don’t think the kids are as confused as when they learn only in English.”

Last June, the state’s voters approved Proposition 227, which requires teachers to instruct second-language students primarily in English. The law allows parents to seek waivers under three exceptions:

For children who are 10 years or older.

For children who already know English as well as the average student in their grade.

For children with “special physical, emotional, psychological or educational needs.”

Of the three exceptions, parents of children under 10 are expected to seek waivers primarily because of educational needs.

During the campaign over the initiative, the two sides fiercely debated how many students actually could be eligible for exemptions. Opponents, including educators, said few students would qualify. Proponents suggested parents would be able to choose which program best suited their children.

In the coming weeks, school officials around the state will wrestle with which students qualify for waivers.

County Schools Superintendent Tom Crawford said Lincoln is the only county school that already has more than 20 waivers at a grade level.

“They’re going to pop up all over,” Crawford said.

Top Santa Rosa administrators said it is too early to discuss what criteria the school board will set in regard to waivers. But officials have indicated clearly they want to offer bilingual instruction in city schools.

They intend to include bilingual education as one part of their revised plan for teaching second-language students. The school board is expected to review that plan next year.

Part of the huge response by Lincoln parents occurred because Superintendent Dale Vigil went to the school earlier this month and talked in Spanish with parents about the available programs and the district’s waiver process.

“It was standing room only,” Vigil told the school board Wednesday night.

Board members didn’t discuss the number of Lincoln waivers Wednesday. But they want to ensure that all parents of second- language students are aware of the waiver process. Board President Hugh Futrell also advised administrators “not to get so far ahead of the board” that new programs are under way before elected officials set policy for them.

Nearly 1,500 of the district’s 5,000 students had limited skills in English last year. Of those, more than 1,200 were Spanish-speaking students. The district hasn’t had a formal bilingual program, officials said, but some schools offer varying amounts of instruction in Spanish.

Among the schools, Lincoln school has offered students more instruction in Spanish. Parents are familiar with the approach and understand students won’t learn only in that language, said Principal Akiko Leister.

“I think the parents realized we’re always building the children’s English skills,” she said.

Parents said Wednesday they want their children to retain the ability to speak their native language.

“We want him to speak both languages fluently,” Virginia Lopez de Rabago said in Spanish, of her 9-year-old son Jose Manuel.

“If he learns only English, how are we supposed to communicate with him? How are we going to help him with his homework?”

Lincoln has enough bilingual teachers to add the classes in all four of the early grades, Leister said. Officials acknowledge other schools have fewer qualified teachers. But if 20 students per grade qualify for the exemption at a school, they said, the district somehow must provide the alternate program.

Parent response has been mixed among the district’s other schools with large numbers of Spanish-speaking students. About 54 percent of Brook Hill School’s students speak Spanish — the same as Lincoln. But Brook Hill Principal Karen Arter said she’s heard few parents discussing waivers.

“I thought there’d be more talk about it here, too,” Arter said.

Parents will learn about the waivers tonight when elementary schools around the district conduct their back-to-school nights.

“We want to really have the parents come is so we can explain our programs,” said Monroe School Principal Stephen Nielsen.

About 35 percent of Monroe’s students speak Spanish as their primary language. Nielsen plans to have one meeting on the various programs for them tonight at school and another Oct. 6 in the Apple Valley neighborhood.

Burbank School Principal Jane Escobedo said she probably will hold a meeting with parents next month. About 46 percent of her students are Spanish speakers.

Staff Writer Maria T. Garcia contributed to this story.

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