Election Section

Calif. education board adopts new rules for English-only classes

By Jessica Brice, The Associated Press
Friday May 31, 2002

Prop 227 supporters get mandate for abolition of most bilingual education 


SACRAMENTO – The State Board of Education approved a new set of rules mandated by Proposition 227, a voter-approved initiative that requires most English-learning students to be taught in English. 

Thursday’s vote marked a victory for proponents of Proposition 227 who threatened to sue the board, saying an initial set of proposed regulations would have undermined the measure. 

Proposition 227, approved by California voters in 1998, abolished most bilingual education programs and replaced them with English-only courses for students who speak little or no English. Although the measure was approved by 61 percent of the voters, only 37 percent of Hispanic voters supported it. 

Roughly 25 percent of California’s 6 million public school students do not speak English fluently. 

At the heart of the argument over the board’s regulations was the parent’s right to apply for a waiver that would allow his or her child to be transferred to bilingual education classes that teach students in both English and their native languages. 

“Since the passage of Prop. 227, obtaining the waiver has been extremely difficult for many parents,” said Francisco Estrada, spokesman for the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund. “Not all parents are informed of their right to request a waiver.” 

Parents who want a waiver must apply for one every school year. But schools are not required to offer the alternative courses unless there are 20 or more students in one grade level who receive a waiver. 

Bilingual advocates were pushing to allow teachers and school administrators to apply for the waiver on behalf of the parent. 

“At one point the regulations said...educational staff could initiate a waiver request or recommend it to a parent or guardian,” said Phil Garcia, spokesman for the board. 

But Ron Unz, author of the initiative, argued that the practice would violate the law and threatened to sue the board. 

“That was completely illegal and contrary to the clear language of the initiative,” said Unz. 

The board decided to delete the section of the rules that would have allowed teachers to initiate the application process. 

“The regulations make clear that educational staff and teachers may still recommend the waiver,” said Garcia. 

Board members also dropped a provision that would have required students to go through a 30-day English assessment period only once instead of every year before transferring to bilingual programs. 

That’s the current practice but bilingual advocates wanted the board to include it in the rules to clearly state that students should only have to go through the assessment once. 

Proponents of Proposition 227 said the students should be required to go through the assessment every school year. 

Unz again threatened to sue and the board omitted any reference to the assessment period. 

Estrada said the watered-down regulations do little to protect students or a parent’s right to obtain a waiver. 

Estrada also said that the board’s decision to avoid addressing the assessment period will be a source of contention later. 

Unz, a wealthy head of a financial services software company, is pushing for similar measures in other states. Massachusetts and Colorado voters will face English-only education initiatives in November, while Arizona passed a measure in 2000.