Bilingual pact frees up DPS District gains more flexibility

The unofficial agreement between the federal government and Denver Public Schools over bilingual education would give the district more flexibility in how it moves non-English-speaking students into regular classrooms.

DPS has agreed to move away from a controversial three-year timeline it proposed last year for students in bilingual classes, said Roger Rice, an attorney familiar with agreement. Instead, DPS will be allowed to “mainstream” students whenever they are demonstrably proficient in English.

Details about the new plan were sketchy Thursday. But Rice said it places a lighter emphasis on standardized test scores than did the old one, which required students to score at a certain level on tests before they could move out of bilingual classes.

“The school system will have more of a say,” said Rice, who represents the Congress of Hispanic Educators, plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against DPS. “Kids will be transitioned by a process. Transition teams will have to weigh certain criteria and facts. Instead of using one test score, there are more things to look at now.”

DPS spokesman Mark Stevens said a confidentiality agreement bars district officials from talking about the agreement’s specifics. He denied DPS is “doing away” with the three-year goal for moving students into all-English classes but would not elaborate further.

Close to 14,000 students in the district speak little or no English. Most of them speak Spanish.

Rosalina Aguirre, co-chair of Padres Unidos, a local Hispanic parents group that filed a complaint against DPS, worried that the new plan will allow DPS to rush kids who can’t speak English into regular classes too quickly.

“They aren’t looking at the future of our Latino kids,” Aguirre said. “They just want to move the kids along into English classes.”

DPS has been under federal investigation since October 1997, when the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights found that DPS had violated federal law by failing to adequately educate students with limited English skills.

Among the major violations found was that Denver had hired bilingual teachers who were not qualified speakers of Spanish. The government also found that DPS wasn’t providing adequate resources for its bilingual education program. Those problems are expected to be resolved with a new settlement, sources said.

Denver’s bilingual program has been under federal jurisdiction since its inception in 1984. U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch will still have to approve any agreement before the new plan can take effect.

DPS and attorneys for the plaintiffs are scheduled to meet Dec. 2 in Washington to iron out some still-unresolved issues.

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