Home > Bilingual Education, Education > Is Bilingual Education Against the Law in California?

Is Bilingual Education Against the Law in California?

QuestionMarksSometimes when I am training teachers in California, I am often asked, “Isn’t bilingual education against the law?”  In a nutshell, NO, 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. There aren’t enough in my opinion, but they still exist.

In 1998, California voters voted to enact Proposition 227, the “English for the Children” ballot initiative which was 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) program, 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.

About the Author: Melanie McGrath is a bilingual education fanatic. She passionately thinks, lives and dreams about multilingual education every waking and sleeping moment of her life. Seriously. Melanie is an administrator of bilingual education programs, and considers herself to be an advocate for students, parents, teachers, and others in the struggle for quality bilingual education programs.  As founder of Multilingual Mania, she’s doing all that she can to help create a multilingual and non-racist society one day at a time.

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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  1. July 21, 2009 at 11:31 pm
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