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Published in Print: June 18, 2003, as Grand Jury Faults Calif. District On Bilingual Education

Grand Jury Faults Calif. District On Bilingual Education

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A California school district violated state laws on bilingual education and pushed for children to be taught in Spanish, rather than English, a grand jury report released last week concludes.

The 3,800-student Rio district in Oxnard has suspended Superintendent Yolanda M. Benitez and is investigating allegations that she manipulated parents to force a pro-bilingual agenda on the district.

California's voter-initiated Proposition 227, approved in 1998, mandates that students with limited proficiency in English be taught in English-immersion classes, unless a parent requests a waiver for classes in the child's native language. About 40 percent of the predominantly Hispanic district's students are classified as being English-language learners.

The grand jury report says that, among other violations of state laws, parental-consent forms issued by the district were written to encourage responses that would require waivers from the English- language curriculum.

Ms. Benitez said in an interview last week that the report was one-sided. Grand jury members refused to speak with her, other administrators, bilingual teachers, or leaders of Latino groups that supported her, even after they asked to testify, she said.

'Highly Irresponsible'

"I really thought it was highly irresponsible of the grand jury not to do due diligence on this kind of issue," she said. Ms. Benitez declined to comment further because of potential litigation.

The district, which is required by law to respond to the report's recommendations within 90 days, is discussing a response, said Patrick Faverty, the interim superintendent.

The 19-member grand jury, which was appointed by the Ventura County Superior Court following residents' complaints, is designed to serve as a watchdog for county and local governments.

It does not have power to bring criminal charges, but the district attorney's office may use such reports to do so.

Vol. 22, Issue 41, Page 5

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