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Trustees Fall Down on Job

Shortage of bilingual teachers at Orange Unified is their fault

September 07, 1997

Teachers and administrators in the Orange Unified School District are in the unfortunate position of not having enough staff to teach as many bilingual classes as they should, while being prevented by a judge from dropping bilingual education altogether. Blame the district's Board of Trustees for the dilemma.

Last month, a Superior Court judge in Sacramento issued an order that at least temporarily stops the district from switching from bilingual education to English-only classes. The order should not have been a surprise. Two months earlier, a staff report of the state Education Department warned the district that its application for a waiver from the requirement to offer bilingual education was flawed. The department said the district was vague on the resources it would use to implement its new program and on a plan to evaluate the results.

Superior Court Judge Ronald B. Robie faulted the district on those same two points. He also said there was a "significant likelihood" that parents who brought the lawsuit against the district would win. Yet district officials said they would find it difficult to comply with the judge's order because so many teachers of bilingual classes had left as a result of the dismantlement. That flight from the classrooms should have been foreseen.

In dropping bilingual education, the board acted too quickly and with too little heed to the wishes of parents. Eight hundred parents signed a petition opposing the board's switch to English-only classes. The trustees could have allowed parents to decide which method of instruction they preferred, if only during the yearlong period of the waiver. The burden would not be too great, since the classes cover only kindergarten through third grade.

Instead, the board voted in May to drop bilingual education altogether. In June, the Education Department's staff expressed its objection. In July, the department granted the waiver anyway. That month came the lawsuit, and last month came the judge's ruling. If the board was convinced that English-only classes would prove better than Spanish-language instruction for the 1,000 children affected, a year's delay would have allowed a more orderly transition period to prove that point. The rush to change methods seems driven more by ideology, reflected in earlier decisions to drop counseling classes and to try to end free lunch programs.

The district could provide a service to schools throughout the state by offering both bilingual education and English-only classes and measuring the results. The goal should be the education of children, not the furtherance of ideologies of board members, teachers, unions or parents. Listening to all sides on such an emotional topic is necessary.

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