They Want the '2' in 227

EDUCATION: Parents defend dual-immersion programs at a couple of O.C. schools.

Children spoke in Spanish and English. They presented social studies and science reports in both languages.

Their parents hailed the dual-language immersion programs at their schools – Las Palmas Elementary in San Clemente and Gates Elementary in Lake Forest – pleading Monday for state Superintendent Delaine Eastin to save the programs outlawed by Proposition 227.

“How could you break our hearts and our children’s hearts,” asked Tonya Iribane, a mother of three Gates students, one of nearly 400 parents, teachers, students and administrators who packed the auditorium of Wood Canyon Elementary School here.

Eastin promised to announce her decision before school starts Sept. 10, but indicated she will approve the request, noting she has a niece in a similar program in a San Jose school.

“Although other districts have indicated their interest in going this route, these two are the first,” she said.

Prop. 227, approved by 61 percent of California voters in June, requires instruction to be overwhelmingly in English, aiming to eliminate traditional bilingual education. Instruction at Gates and Las Palmas is 90 percent in Spanish in kindergarten and first grade with more English time added each year.

Proponents of Prop. 227 said bilingual education has failed California’s 1.4 million limited-English students, undermining their success in school and society. But people from Gates and Las Palmas argued their programs should be exempt from the law because they have enrolled voluntarily and because bilingualism is educationally beneficial.

Dr. George Schiffman, a physician and father of a Gates fourth-grader, said immersion in Spanish has helped his daughter learn Hebrew, piano, science and dance. “My daughter dreams in Spanish even though we speak no Spanish at home,” he said.

Technically, the two schools have asked Eastin to approve alternative programs, a status typically granted to dropout-prevention and other programs for at-risk students.

Backers of Prop. 227, none of whom spoke Monday, argue the exemptions could open the door for any school to reinstate bilingual education.

“It’s circumventing what the law intends,” said Gloria Matta Tuchman, the Santa Ana teacher who co-authored Prop. 227 and is running against Eastin for state superintendent.

California has 95 schools with dual-immersion programs, the vast majority of them in Spanish and English. Tuchman said she suspects the dual-language programs benefit native English speakers who want to learn Spanish more than students who need to learn English.

“It’s great to be bilingual as long as one of those languages is English, because the (state’s standardized) tests are in English,” she said.

But several Spanish-speaking parents supported dual immersion Monday.

“I want them to learn two languages,” said Alberto Olivares, a native of Mexico and father of four Gates students. “It’s better for the children. I can help them with their homework.”

If alternative-school status is not granted, Gates and Las Palmas officials said parents will request waivers to keep their children in the program. But schools can only issue the waivers 30 days after classes start, and they must be renewed each year.

“We will still have the program, but it won’t be as good,” said Angela Hewan, mother of a Gates fourth-grader.

The schools have also submitted charter applications, another route to be exempt from Prop. 227. The state Board of Education will hear the proposals Sept. 10.

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