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

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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?

Answer:

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, many of the parental exception waivers (i.e., bilingual waivers that parents sign in order to request placement in a bilingual program) that I’ve seen in many districts throughout the state of California actually 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!

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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Categories: Bilingual Education

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