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

by multilingualmania on October 16, 2009

in Bilingual Education, Frequently Asked Questions, Politics


Question of the Week:

Do parents have the right to take their child out of a bilingual program? My sister’s son is in a bilingual program in Los Angeles and when she put him in the program she was told that he couldn’t leave the program until the end of the sixth grade. Is this accurate?


It is absolutely not true that parents cannot take their child out of a bilingual program in California.  I would venture to say that my prior statement is true for all states in which bilingual programs are available. It’s always been a rumor by anti-bilingual agitators that students are forced into bilingual programs and are not allowed to leave.

Parents have the legal right to choose to move their child out of a bilingual program and into an English Mainstream program at any time and for any reason. In fact, parents who request bilingual education in California must sign a parental exception waiver to participate in the bilingual program. I have seen many bilingual waivers throughout the state of California that include a statement that parents have been informed of the right to exit a bilingual program.

It may be possible that your sister might have been told the following information:

  • In many traditional bilingual and/or Dual Immersion (i.e., two-way immersion, bilingual immersion, dual language) parents are sometimes provided an orientation and informed that such programs are long-term programs. In such cases, parents are frequently asked to make a commitment to stay in the program throughout the remainder of the elementary grades. At some schools, parents sign a “commitment form or contract” in which they make a commitment to attempt to stay in the program. This commitment form or contract is by no means a legally binding document, and parents still have the right to leave the program at any time. The main purpose that many bilingual programs may request such a commitment is to decrease the amount of student mobility in the program. If too many students exit out of a program, it is very difficult to find students who have enough proficiency in the two languages of the program, and without enough students the program may be at risk of being discontinued in certain grade levels.
  • In certain cases, I have known of particular instances when a parent requests for their child to exit the bilingual program, yet there is no space in an English program. Instead of electing to have their child temporarily sent to another school, the parent chooses to have their child remain in the bilingual program until a space is available in English. It is important to point out in this instance that although the parent has chosen to exit the bilingual program, the parent still makes the conscious decision to have their child stay in the program temporarily as opposed to sending the child to another school.
  • Your sister may have spoken to someone who was not knowledgeable about the bilingual program. It has been my experience that many myths circulate between parents, within the community, and even between workers in the school district. Your sister may have been given inaccurate information by someone who is misinformed about the program and is repeating what someone else may have told them. I’d like to believe that someone is not purposefully spreading lies about the bilingual program, but it has been known to occur in some instances. However, more often than not inaccurate information is more than likely given to parents out of lack of knowledge. I highly recommend that parents speak directly to a site administrator or district-office personnel in order to be given the most accurate information.

If you have a burning question about bilingual programs, multilingualism, second language acquisition, or similar topics, please feel free to leave your question in the comments section or you can email it to multilingualmania(at)yahoo(dot)com.  Thanks for stopping by!

Related Articles:
Is Bilingual Education Against the Law in California?
A Parent’s Guide to the Critical Components of Effective Bilingual Programs

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Robert September 15, 2012 at 9:52 pm


My son is starting first grade this year at our local California elementary school. The school is one of those Spanish magnet schools. They are having all students learn the Spanish language to one degree or another. We are German and I am not interested in having my son learn Spanish. Under California’s Constitution, Article 3, Section 6; California Proposition 227; and California case law, do we have the right to “just say no” to the public school forcing my child to learn Spanish instead of or along with English and if we do have such a right, can I insist they not just dump my son in independent self study without active teacher instruction, like the other students will be receiving. Finally, are you aware of any California case law on this precise issue?

Thank you.

Robert R.

multilingualmania October 26, 2012 at 8:48 pm

Prop 227 and the education code that you mentioned is applicable to students who are learning english. However, even parents of english learners can’t be automatically placed in a bilingual program without parent consent. I suggest that you find out the policy of your particular school district from the school board. I have rarely heard of a school where everyone is learning spanish, unless it is an optional charter school, but I imagine that in the case where it might be a specialized magnet school that there must be some sort of opt out procedures that parents can utilize, or the district has other options for parents.

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