Schools Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez ordered two Brooklyn school districts yesterday to submit plans to correct problems in their bilingual education
programs by Feb. 2. Failure to do so, he warned, would lead to his taking over the programs.
In letters to the presidents of Community School Board 14 in the Williamsburg-Greenpoint area and Board 22 in Sheepshead Bay, Mr. Fernandez expressed ”grave concern” about the districts’ failure to comply with Federal and board mandates.
”It is clear, even from a brief review, that there is a history of failure to comply with Board of Education policy and legal requirements on the part of your district,” Mr. Fernandez wrote.
”This cannot be allowed to continue and must be resolved,” he said, so the students ”can receive educational services to which they are entitled by law.”
The Chancellor said the districts had failed to test students who might be in need of language assistance, had not provided programs for many students who were eligible and had not filed required reports with the central Board of Education on how the districts were correcting past problems.
‘Loud and Clear’ Message
For Mr. Fernandez, who took office this month, the move continued the aggressive stance he has taken in reviewing – and overruling in some cases -the actions of the city’s local schools boards. He has already removed one local superintendent, blocked the appointment of another and dismissed some principals.
Mr. Fernandez’s spokesman, James S. Vlasto, said yesterday’s action reflected Mr. Fernandez’s policy of accountability and the importance of the monitoring office he has established under his reorganization plan. Whereas each Board of Education division once had its own monitoring unit, Mr. Vlasto said the new office would report directly to Mr. Fernandez.
”He wants to make sure the message gets out loud and clear to the community school boards that this Chancellor is going to be involved in these activities,’ ‘ said Mr. Vlasto. ”He’s going to be monitoring their roles.”
The action was applauded by Dr. Luis O. Reyes, deputy director for research and advocacy of Aspira of New York, a Puerto Rican community organization that, as a plaintiff in a Federal court suit in the early 1970’s and a party in a consent decree, helped bring about procedures and programs for bilingual education in city schools.
Action Called Significant
Dr. Reyes, who gave Mr. Fernandez a list of a dozen districts not in compliance with the consent decree, including Boards 14 and 22, said that if the Chancellor were to supersede the community school boards in the area of bilingual education, it would be significant in two ways.
”If he were to take action against either district and take over the programs, this would be a historical event in the 16-year history of the consent decree mandating bilingual education,” Dr. Reyes said. ”No schools chancellor has ever done that before.”
And, he added, it would be the first action Mr. Fernandez has taken ”on an educational negligence issue directly affecting student instruction, as opposed to actions he has taken related to misconduct, corruption and incompetence.”
On Wednesday, at a time of municipal belt-tightening, Mr. Fernandez proposed a budget increase of $483 million to hire more than a thousand new teachers and guidance counselors and to repair deteriorating schools.
Monitors from the Division of Multilingual and Multicultural Education visited schools in Districts 14 and 22 last October.
In his letter to Board 22, Mr. Fernandez summarized instances of ”serious noncompliance” dating to 1987, including failure to try to recruit bilingual teachers to expand programs and failure to explain programs to parents in their native tongue.
Some 208 students were not tested for language ability, the Chancellor went on, and 124 students with limited English proficiency were not receiving a mandated bilingual program or a course in English as a second language.
In his letter to Board 14, he noted that 438 bilingual students had not been tested and 460 with limited English proficiency were not receiving help under a program. Nor were the district’s bilingual programs expanded, despite noncompliances cited during the 1988-89 school year, Mr. Fernandez said.
In addition the Chancellor said both District 14 and 22 had failed to file reports with the Board of Education in December on the number of students with limited English proficiency and the types of programs available.
Superintendent John Comer of District 22, reached at home last night, declined to comment. Superintendent William A. Rodgers of District 14 could not be reached at his office and did not return a call to his home.
In his memo to Mr. Fernandez listing districts not in compliance, Dr. Reyes named District 2 in Manhattan, Districts 9, 10 and 12 in the Bronx, 15 in Brooklyn and 24, 27 amd 28 in Queens.