U.S. settles Oceanside school-bias complaint

Unhappy parents say their input wasn't sought

OCEANSIDE — Federal civil rights officials have settled a complaint accusing the Oceanside school district of treating English learners unfairly.

But parents are unhappy with the findings, saying investigators did not seek their input in the investigation.

The parents group, which was seeking continued Spanish-language instruction for its members’ children, filed a complaint in July 1999 alleging the district was discriminating against limited-English-speaking students.

It asserted that Oceanside was failing to give English learners equal access to subjects covered in class by offering neither bilingual education nor appropriate English instruction geared toward English learners.

Following an investigation, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights outlined some general concerns last month. The department asked the district to provide English learners with solid English instruction, adequate staff, and an evaluation of their progress showing measurable results — and more parent input.

In a letter to the federal agency, Oceanside Unified School District expressed its commitment to address these issues, and said most of the concerns were incorporated in a “master plan” implemented in August.

That was enough to satisfy federal officials, who vowed to check back periodically to ensure the district follows through.

But the outcome has angered some parents.

“This is a slap on the hand,” parent Ismael Avilez said. “A commitment can mean anything. We want to see something concrete after two years of living under these horrendous conditions.”

Avilez is referring partly to Oceanside’s implementation of Proposition 227, which ended bilingual education except for parents who could obtain waivers exempting their children from English-only instruction. Oceanside Unified, unlike many districts across the state, denied most waivers — essentially throwing out bilingual education. Some parents have said they think waivers were unfairly denied.

The issue is meaningful to many education watchers who have heralded the district for its gains by English learners on the state’s SAT-9 standardized test. The advances began after Oceanside shelved bilingual education. Federal officials did not take issue with the district’s implementation of Proposition 227, nor its waiver process.

But the California Department of Education, in response to a similar complaint, contested the district’s implementation of the law, which the district has appealed. The Education Department rejected the appeal and will soon send representatives to Oceanside to again review recent program changes.

Oceanside schools’ spokeswoman Cindy Sabato said these investigations have alerted the district to shortcomings and made campuses more conscious about communicating with parents.

“It’s frustrating when accusations are that we’re hurting kids, when there’s academic achievement that we’ve never seen before in Oceanside,” she said. “On the other hand . . . we need to make sure we’re not discriminating against students and that we are giving all students access to a fair education.”

Two San Francisco-based legal groups, Multicultural Education, Training & Advocacy Inc. and California Rural Legal Assistance, filed the complaints on behalf of the parents’ coalition, the United Coalition for the Education of Our Children.

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