Is Bilingual Education Against the Law in California?

by multilingualmania on June 23, 2009

in Bilingual Education, Policy


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.

Related Resources:

Critical Components of Effective Bilingual Programs

A Parent’s Guide to the Critical Components of Effective Bilingual Programs

How Do You Get a BCLAD Credential?

Can Schools Force a Child to Stay in a Bilingual Program?

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Ana Lilian July 2, 2009 at 12:58 pm

Thank you so much for writing this and explaining it in a way anyone can grasp it. This is an issue that has certainly been kept under wraps and there’s not enough simple materials to help parents make better informed decisions.
You are doing an excellent job through this blog.
Really appreciate it.

multilingualmania July 2, 2009 at 2:50 pm

Thank you for the compliment. I think it’s really important that people know about this information because many school districts withhold the information from parents, unfortunately.

Kris July 23, 2009 at 6:49 pm

Hi there – thanks for the informative article. I would love to get your insight on how a non dual-immersion bilingual program would look at the middle or high school level. I am a huge proponent of biliteracy but our staff has recently been debating the benefit to our students of a bilingual program where all content is taught in Spanish to students who have been in the U.S. since birth. They are in ELD type classes for English but all other content including math, social studies and science are taught using Spanish reading materials and spanish oral instruction. Is this beneficial to our students in the long-run? Is there any research on this?

multilingualmania July 24, 2009 at 10:29 pm

Interesting question! I am going to think on this for a bit and formulate an in detail question for you, which I will post soon!!

multilingualmania July 24, 2009 at 10:31 pm

Have the students been in bilingual programs in the past? Are they students who are struggling?

Kris July 25, 2009 at 8:05 am

Many have been in bilingual since K and most score extremely low on CST’s which to me would make sense since the CST’s are in English and they have been learning in Spanish. Unfortunately they no longer qualify to take the state tests in Spanish so it’s hard to urge first language skills. Does that answer your question at all?

multilingualmania July 25, 2009 at 10:27 am

Yes. Is it a large group of students? It seems strange to me that students in a bilingual program for that long would not already be reclassified yet. I’m going to compile a post on it a little later. Do you know what type of bilingual program that they were in? A dual immersion, transitional bilingual education program, etc.

Al November 17, 2011 at 11:17 pm

Hello!
I appreciate your blog very much. I’m learning so much!

Anyways, you mentioned that “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.”

I think that parents are misinformed when they come to our schools to sign their children up for school. I’m pretty sure that when a parent goes to my school, the secretary and clerk have no clue what to say in re. to bilingual education options at our district. It would also help if they were bilingual! He he (Gotta laugh…otherwise it’s so sad!)

How can this stop? Well, the principal/administrator MUST support bilingual education!

multilingualmania January 15, 2012 at 8:55 pm

@Al Yes! If we do not have administrators who support bilingual programs, then staff won’t as well. In my case, as an administrator who oversees parents as they enroll, I found out that some of my front office clerk weren’t giving accurate information to parents. Many people have misconceptions about bilingualism and bilingual education, including some of the office and clerical staff. I started a monthly book club where I asked them to read about bilingual programs, and we talked about their questions. I can honestly say that after a couple of months many of our parent complaints about inaccurate information decreased! Through my experience we were able to examine their misconceptions and the myths that they have been taught. Until people who support bilingualism are in administrative positions, then we will continue to have this unfortunate problem.

Lucila Chavez December 8, 2015 at 1:50 pm

Where can I find more information on my rights as a parent in selecting an alternative instructional setting such as transitional bilingual education or dual immersion for my child?

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