Calling it a “momentous juncture in our school district’s history,” the Denver school board Thursday unanimously approved its new bilingual-education
program, a plan they say will transition Spanish speakers into English classes after three years.

“I’m proud of the plan we’ve put forward,” school board President Sue Edwards said at Thursday’s board meeting. “It is clearly defined, student focused
and one that has high expectations of these students. This is a first-class program for our second-language learners.”

The program will be monitored for at least three years by University of Colorado Professor Ernie House, a choice agreed to by Denver Public Schools, the federal government and the Congress of Hispanic Educators, who sued the district in 1984. Under federal control

The program, which will serve 14,000 of the district’s 69,000 students, will now go to U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch for final approval. Denver’s bilingual education program has been under federal control since 1984, when the lawsuit was filed.

If approved by Matsch, the plan also would end a nearly two-year federal inquiry into complaints by Hispanic advocates who had charged that DPS failed to provide a quality education for students in need of bilingual education.

Full implementation of the new bilingual program would occur this fall.

Some, however, were skeptical of the plan.

“It is regrettable that DPS has chosen to take a step backward and provide a minimum rather than a maximum education experience for students in this district,” CU education professor Kathy Escamilla said in a statement.

House, an education professor specializing in educational reform and analysis, has extensive experience as an evaluator of school districts across the country. In the 1980s, House oversaw a review of the New York City school district that the mayor requested because an unusually high number of students were flunking out.

His role in Denver will be much the same, House said. He will review district reports, make visits to schools and report his findings to the district and the government, if necessary.

“Basically, the monitor sees that the district does what it says it will,” House said.

The new program will offer greater parental say in deciding how a child is enrolled in bilingual education. Also, several factors will be used to determine when a child is ready to be placed in English-only classes, including standardized tests, teacher evaluations and student profiles.

The goal will be to mainstream students into English classes after three years, but they could stay in bilingual classes for as long as five years if necessary, officials said.

“This program will be a model others can emulate, with a clear goal to mainstream students as quickly as possible,” Assistant Superintendent Wayne Eckerling said.

During the meeting, a handful of parents protested outside DPS headquarters at 900 Grant St., carrying signs that read “English yes, but not English only.” Many fear that DPS will move quickly to immerse students into regular classes before they are ready. ‘National strategy’

“We are dealing with a national strategy that is anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican and anti-poor,” said Pam Martinez of Padres Unidos, a Hispanic parents group that filed the complaint that triggered the federal investigation.

Board member Rita Montero offered assurances that the district would abide by the new agreement. She said she hoped the agreement would bring “closure to this issue” so the district can concentrate its efforts on educating students.

“Most important to me is that we have the absolute requirement that all teachers will be fully qualified,” said Montero, referring to the government’s findings that DPS had hired many underqualified bilingual teachers.

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