The California State Board of Education unanimously adopted emergency regulations Thursday intended to give local schools and parents as much flexibility as possible in carrying out Proposition 227, the voter-approved initiative that sought to end bilingual education.
“I think we’re trying to be flexible for programs that are successful and that have parent buy-in,” said board president Yvonne Larsen.
“This should be considered a parent- and local school board-driven system,” added the board’s executive director, Bill Lucia.
The emergency regulations, which first need to be approved by the Office of Administrative Law before taking effect, say that schools must have “structured English immersion” programs — the content of which remains undefined — for any semester or equivalent term that begins after Aug. 2.
But advocates of bilingual education, which uses a child’s native language in teaching English and other academic subjects, are hoping that a federal judge will block the initiative’s enactment after a court hearing next week.
A coalition of civil rights group is seeking a preliminary injunction on the grounds that the initiative is discriminatory and violates federal law.
Nearly 1.4 million students, a quarter of the state’s public school enrollment, are not fluent in English. About a third have been taught in bilingual programs.
While the state board already had decided it does not have the authority to grant waivers to school districts that want to maintain bilingual programs, its action Thursday stressed that parents themselves can request waivers to place their children in programs other than English immersion.
The regulations say such parent waivers “shall be granted unless the school principal and education staff have substantial evidence that the alternative program requested by parents would not be better suited for the pupil.”
“Our target is to be protective of parents,” said board vice president Robert Trigg.
But Ron Unz, author of Proposition 227, said Thursday that the initiative is clear “that parents who want their children in a bilingual program must provide evidence of the effectiveness of that bilingual program.”
“So long as the initiative is interpreted in any reasonable manner, it would certainly end the overwhelming majority of bilingual programs in the state. Those programs have no evidence of children succeeding in them,” Unz said.
The initiative states that limited-English students must be placed in an English immersion program and taught “overwhelmingly” in English for a period not normally to exceed one year. But a school must provide an alternative program if parents of more than 20 students in one grade receive waivers.
The head of one of the groups seeking to block the initiative said the parent waiver provision “is not a savior by a long shot.”
“There is a very serious question about the ability of non-English-speaking parents to leverage a school system in this way,” said Peter Roos, co-director of Multicultural Education, Training and Advocacy.
Also problematic to Roos and to several speakers at Thursday’s board hearing is the requirement that all children be placed in an English language classroom for 20 instructional days before a waiver can be granted.
The regulations also state that school districts have to provide services to English learners, beyond one year of English immersion, until students are proficient in English and have erased any academic deficits.
But the regulations do not specify what will be taught in those English immersion programs and whether, or how much, of a child’s native language can be used.
“We will have multiple ways of what (districts) think structured English immersion looks like,” Lucia said.
State schools chief Delaine Eastin, who was not at Thursday’s meeting, said in a statement that the regulations give schools “the flexibility … to create programs suitable to meet the needs of their students.”
But Eastin added, “This is by no means the final act in this drama. Implementing this initiative will be a challenging task.”