On many occasions when I speak about bilingual education it seems that many people have the misconception that bilingual education is against the law in California. To clarify, bilingual education is not against the law in California. In fact, there are many transitional bilingual education programs and dual immersion/dual language programs throughout the state. Over the years the availability of bilingual programs have decreased throughout California, but they continue to exist.
In 1998, California voters voted to enact Proposition 227, the “English for the Children” ballot initiative designed to restrict bilingual education programs in the state of California. Although Prop 227 resulted in a devastatingly large decrease in bilingual education programs, it did not fully eliminate bilingual programs. The law stipulated that parents of English learners sign a parental exception waiver if they want their child to participate in a bilingual education program.
As a result of Prop 227, English learners with “less than reasonable fluency in English” should first be placed in a structured English immersion (SEI) setting, a specialized program designed to theoretically rapidly increase students’ English proficiency before they are placed in an English Mainstream program. If parents want their children to participate in an alternative course of study program (i.e., bilingual education), parents must sign a parental exception waiver which requests placement in a bilingual education program.
California education code stipulates that parents must be given a full consultation of the educational programs in the district and must visit the school in order to apply for the parental exception waiver. In the event that 20 or more students at the same grade level apply for a waiver to participate in an alternative course of study program (i.e., bilingual program), a program must be provided at the school or parents must be offered the opportunity to send their child to a school where such a program exists. In many districts, parents are not knowledgeable about their right to sign a parental exception waiver because school officials withhold such information from them and therefore do not offer any types of bilingual education programs.
School officials may grant parental exception waivers if they determine that a bilingual education program is educationally advantageous for students. The following scenarios would stipulate the granting of a waiver: 1) the child is already proficient in English; 2) the child is older than 10 years of age; and, 3) the child has special physical, emotional, psychological or educational needs that would be better served in bilingual education setting. Parents have the right at any time to choose to exit their child out of a bilingual program.
Although the California education code stipulates that alternative courses of study may be offered in order to meet the specialized needs of English learners, the law does not delineate the specific types of bilingual programs that each school district may offer. Some school districts may offer transitional bilingual programs, where students are provided primary language instruction in the primary grades and are subsequently transitioned into instruction provided overwhelmingly in English. Other districts may offer dual immersion programs, a form of developmental maintenance bilingual program where students learn English as they continue to develop and maintain their primary language.
It’s imperative that as educators we inform parents about their rights to request a parental exception waiver in order for their child to participate in a bilingual education program. As educators who support bilingual education programs, we must also take the initiative in advancing to administrative positions and/or governing school board positions within local school districts in order to provide parents of English learners with accurate information regarding their educational rights.
Please feel free to contact me by leaving a comment here if you would like to personally discuss how you can best increase the advocacy of parents in your local school districts in order to increase the accurate information regarding bilingual programs in your school district.