Original URL:  http://www.staronline.com/vcs/county_news/article/0,1375,VCS_226_2025683,00.html

Grand Jury faults Rio on bilingual goals
Ventura County Star
June 10, 2003

y By Marjorie Hernandez mhernandez@insidevc.com

The Ventura County Grand Jury reported Monday that the Rio School District failed to notify parents of their rights and actively pushed for bilingual education -- an issue that has caused divisiveness in the small community.

The Grand Jury interviewed parents and attended several board meetings to investigate allegations concerning "irregularities" in the bilingual education program.

The Grand Jury investigation began after the school board presented Superintendent Yolanda Benitez with 15 charges on March 5 stating that she violated her contract.

The nine-page Grand Jury report listed 15 findings, one of which states that the district did not issue its annual parental notification of rights and duties, which should be sent at the beginning of the first semester or quarter of the regular school term.

The Grand Jury also explored allegations concerning bilingual  education and found that the district administrators "actively solicited" Proposition 227 bilingual parent waiver requests.

The Grand Jury examined questionnaire forms and found that it "appeared to be tailored to trigger a response" that would require a waiver form from English language classes.

"One of the main things that stuck out of the questionnaire is that the box for 'no' was listed first and appeared on the left instead of the right," said Grand Jury foreman Duane Christensen. "It was as if they were soliciting a no answer because 'no' appeared first. They were definitely looking for a 'no' answer."

The Grand Jury findings surprised Benitez, who said that the bilingual program received six commendations from the California Department of Education last March.

"It is irresponsible that the Grand Jury never reviewed this document or asked program administrators about the bilingual program before issuing their report," Benitez said.

Bilingual education program administrators said they were never called to testify in front of the Grand Jury. They maintain that parents must come into the school site where a teacher goes over  the different programs as stated by the Education Code.

The Grand Jury also found the looming conflict of bilingual education has not only affected relationships among parents but
also the teachers who work in the district.

According to the report, the turnover rate of teachers in the district has been "unusually high" over the past three years, with
many leaving for higher-paying positions in other districts.

The Grand Jury report did not give statistics to support that finding.

However, state Department of Education statistics show that 26 percent of teachers on the Rio staff last year were in their first or
second year on the job, double the county average. But Rio's demand for new teachers was higher than many districts -- it faced a 19 percent growth in enrollment while the county increase in enrollment totaled 4 percent.

Some of the jurors attended board meetings and found that the board did not provide appropriate sound systems or translation
services. They found that the meetings were "noisy" and "contentious" and that the board allowed audience members to call out obscenities if they did not agree with the speaker.

Among their eight recommendations, the Grand Jury called for open meetings to provide parents with a better understanding of the goals of the bilingual program and give all parents their rights and duties as required by the Education Code.

A special board meeting will be held on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the district office at 3300 Cortez Street where Benitez is
expected to respond to the 15 charges during closed session.