SAN BERNARDINO—San Bernardino school board member Elsa Valdez said Friday she will push district administrators to apply for a waiver that would exempt all district schools from Prop. 227’s requirement that children be taught mostly in English.
Prop. 227, passed in June, wiped out most bilingual programs starting Aug. 2. However, parents may seek waivers to keep their children in bilingual classes if the students already know English, are at least 10 years old, or have “special needs.”
Parents of 334 pupils in the San Bernardino City Unified School District have signed waivers requesting that their children remain in the bilingual program.
School officials are reviewing the requests. Under the law, school districts are required to offer bilingual classes at schools where administrators have approved waivers for 20 students or more in the same grade.
Board member Elsa Valdez said school officials need to support these parents by applying for one districtwide waiver that would be reviewed by the state Board of Education.
So far, 37 schools or districts have requested waivers from the law’s requirements. On Thursday, an Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled that the state board of education must consider a school district’s request for a waiver, which would let it keep its entire bilingual program. Whether the ruling has statewide implications is unclear.
“The ruling itself is a ruling on the meaning of the law,” said William M. Quinn Jr., an attorney representing the three districts. “My view is the state board would be obliged to consider all waivers.”
The head counsel for the state Department of Education, Michael Hersher, agreed. And even the attorney for the state board, state Deputy Attorney General Angela Botelho, conceded that “as a practical matter, it opens up to all districts the waiver process.”
However, the state board has insisted it cannot legally allow districts to dodge Prop. 227. The board’s executive director, Bill Lucia, said he believes the Superior Court ruling only applies to the three East Bay school districts that sued the board. Lucia said the board would seriously consider filing an appeal to determine whether the ruling must be applied statewide.
“Certainly, an appellate court ruling makes this unambiguous,” Lucia said. “We’re considering whether this is the most appropriate way to get this answered.”
In the meantime, he said, the board intends to process the waivers of the three districts.
Valdez wants to ask district staff at Tuesday’s board meeting to place her proposal on a future school board agenda, so the board can vote on it.
Board President Marlin Brown said that usually before an item is placed on the agenda a majority of board members must agree.
Two board members reached Friday had different reactions to Valdez’s idea.
Brown said he needed more information before he could form an opinion.
“I want to know what the pros and cons of this are,” he said. “How have the guidelines of 227 affected the district? There are two sides to this issue, and we’ll need to review whether what we’ve experienced from 227 so far is positive or negative.”
Board member James Marinis said he would probably vote against requesting a districtwide waiver.
“The people have already voted,” Marinis said. “We should at least try and see what happens.”
However, Patricia Padilla, secretary of the district’s parent bilingual advisory committee, raved about Valdez’s plan.
“Right now parents have to apply for a waiver on a yearly basis, and you never know if the school’s going to reject your waiver,” she said. “Kids need to get an education in their primary language.”