Parents Urged to Seek Bilingual Waivers
Even as it promised to appeal a federal judge’s refusal to block implementation of Proposition 227, a leading Latino rights organization announced plans for a statewide campaign to encourage thousands of parents to seek special permits to continue bilingual education.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund is seizing on a provision of the anti-bilingual initiative that allows parents to seek waivers for their children from English immersion classes.
If a school receives 20 applications in any grade, it must provide a bilingual class or transport the students to another school that can accommodate their needs.
“I hope to see waivermania in California,” Theresa Bustillos, MALDEF’s vice president of legal programs, said at a news conference. “You can bring Prop. 227 to a standstill if enough parents apply for waivers and districts grant them.”
Top officials at the Los Angeles Unified School District said they doubted that the campaign would have such a dramatic effect.
But Deputy Supt. Liliam Castillo, who is charge of instruction and curriculum, conceded that a flood of waiver requests “would definitely create dilemmas at schools in terms of meeting timelines and ensuring that parents have full explanations of what their options are and what they will mean.”
In the meantime, district officials are refining options and logistical strategies to make the transition to English-only classes as smooth as possible. The framework for implementation is expected to be presented to the Los Angeles Unified Board of Education on Tuesday.
The superintendent and his top staff met in an emergency session Wednesday to begin discussing these strategies after U.S. District Judge Charles A. Legge issued his decision. As result of his ruling, Prop. 227 will be in force for all school semesters that start after Aug. 2.
In an interview, Supt. Ruben Zacarias said proposals under consideration “offer English immersion with primary language support.”
In fact, Prop. 227 does not ban the use of primary language instruction. It requires that students receive intensive English lessons for one year and then move into regular English-speaking classrooms after they have a “good working knowledge” of English.
“There seems to be a perception, particularly in the Latino community, that the use of primary language in instruction is prohibited. Not so,” Zacarias said. “However, how much Spanish, say, we can insert into instruction without violating the law is the question we are grappling with now.”
One proposal, he said, would have teachers continue to provide instruction in English while aides in the classroom work with children in their primary language if they are having difficulty comprehending certain concepts.
Zacarias and other district officials had not given much attention to the issue of producing formal waiver requests and a method of processing them. The superintendent said MALDEF’s intention to inundate school districts with waivers has caused him to move that issue up on the priority list.
It remains to be seen if the MALDEF effort mushrooms into a significant movement. While a majority of Latinos opposed Prop. 227, a significant number--37%--voted in favor of the initiative.
School board President Victoria Castro said she hoped that parents will make their own decision about whether to file a waiver and not be unduly influenced by activists.
Nonetheless, Castro said she expects L.A. Unified to be hit with “massive waiver requests.” “But I don’t foresee chaos in Los Angeles schools, which are large enough to accommodate them,” she said.
Under provisions in the new law, children may be granted a waiver if they already know English, are over 10 years of age, or have special physical, emotional, psychological or educational needs that require instruction in their primary language.
Given that most students with limited English skills are under 10, MALDEF attorneys anticipate that most waivers would be filed for children claiming special needs.
But there’s a catch.
“Essentially, it attaches a stigma by labeling a child as someone with a ‘special need,’ ” Bustillos said. “So while we will be encouraging parents to apply for waivers, we will be supplying grass-roots groups with information about the pros and cons.”
Stephanie Schwartz, a teacher at Granada Hills High School who campaigned in favor of Prop. 227, was not pleased with MALDEF’s call to arms.
“I don’t think many parents will sign up for waivers,” she said. “In the meantime, if I catch anyone breaking this law, I’ll file a lawsuit against them myself.”