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Report Blasts Santa Ana Schools

Times Staff Writer

After being battered for years over how it teaches its Spanish-speaking students, the Santa Ana Unified School District took another hit Monday when the Orange County Grand Jury sharply criticized it for continuing to overemphasize bilingual education.

The focus on teaching in Spanish, the grand jury’s 20-page report said, is slowing students’ progress and contrary to the intent of a state law requiring students to be taught primarily in English.

Santa Ana Unified “has fostered an atmosphere that has encouraged resistance to implementation of Proposition 227,” the jury concluded, referring to the 1998 law that requires all California students to be taught in English unless their parents request a waiver.

Though the district is only compelled to respond publicly to the report’s findings, the jury’s conclusions are certain to reopen the debate over bilingual education in Santa Ana.

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“If you look at this report, you’ll see an ideology,” said Supt. Al Mijares, who criticized the jury’s conclusions. They suggest, he said, that the district was showing “insubordination to the law and a resistance to it. And that is absolutely not true.”

The debate over bilingual education has been a contentious one in Santa Ana, where more than two-thirds of the 60,000 students are designated as “English learners.” The issue was at the center of the 2003 recall of district trustee Nativo V. Lopez, who was accused by many of encouraging schools to flout Proposition 227.

The jury’s report concluded that, since the law’s passage, Santa Ana has promoted multiyear, bilingual programs while not properly reevaluating students in the programs. It also faulted the district for exempting from the law far too many students who would otherwise attend classes taught in English.

The report acknowledged that the district had made efforts this year to grant fewer waivers, but the jury decided it was far from done.

“They have done part of their job, but they have not done all of it,” jury foreman Tom Staple said in an interview Monday.

Last year, 6,388 waivers allowed students to attend Spanish-speaking classes. This year, the number dropped to 3,844.

“The whole point of this is that all the responses from the district will have to be published. It makes Santa Ana responsible to the public,” Staple said. “They will have to explain why they do what they do. And the district has not done enough.”

Mijares defended the waiver system and its efforts to comply with the law, pointing to the hiring last year of a lawyer to advise the district on bilingual reforms. He also defended the district’s “dual-immersion” classes aimed at teaching both languages to English- and Spanish-speaking students.

“It is too simplistic to allege that our programs do not comply with Prop. 227,” Mijares said. “There is a tremendous diversity of opinion in how parents want their children to be taught. We must be careful not to return to the idea that one size fits all.”

District trustees were divided over the report. Rosemarie Avila, a strong supporter of Proposition 227, said she was pleased with the jury’s findings and hoped it would lead to greater reforms in the district.

Audrey Yamagata-Noji, however, harshly criticized the jury for what she called a biased report. By offering the bilingual and dual-immersion classes, she said, the district was responding to the parents who demand the classes for their children.


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