DPS chief rejects feds' allegations

Moskowitz says Denver schools working on better bilingual program

Superintendent Irv Moskowitz on Friday flatly rejected allegations from the U.S. Department of Education that Denver Public Schools denies bilingual students an adequate education.

Moskowitz said the department based its complaints on old information that was gathered in a cursory manner.

For instance, he said, federal inspectors visited 11 schools. However, more than half the district’s 110 schools have programs for the 13,625 students who are not proficient at English. Nearly 90% of those students speak Spanish.

Those visits took place two years ago. In the meantime, Moskowitz said, DPS has developed a plan to revamp bilingual edcuation that will hire better- trained teachers and assimilate Spanish-speaking children into mainstream classes within three years for many students. No students would be forced out before they are proficient.

That plan came after pressure from Hispanic leaders and from a federal lawsuit over poor bilingual instruction.

”We know we have some holes in our program, and we’ve intended to fix it and we have been fixing it,” Moskowitz said. ”But more than that, we have put together a plan to address the needs of these kids and do it in a logical, doable way that is sound educationally.”

Moskowitz complained that no other district has met the federal standards.

Lillian Gutierrez, director of the Denver office of the civil rights office of the Education Department, agreed that other districts had violations. However, they have been cooperative in developing remedies while DPS has not, she said.

DPS receives $ 30.5 million from the federal government annually for an array of programs. It is possible some of that could be withheld if the new plan or other negotiations do not satisfy Gutierrez’s department. However, Gutierrez said that’s not likely.

The federal department also wants individual learning plans even for students who do not enroll in the program. That would require 50 to 75 more administrators, Moskowitz said.

”We have trouble buying things like that,” he said.

Findings of the two-year federal probe included: a lack of qualified teachers; inadequate materials; ineffective transition to mainstream classes; insufficient follow-up on students after they leave the program.

Finding qualified teachers has been difficult, Moskowitz said. About 80% of the district’s bilingual teachers speak Spanish well. About 55% to 60% have completed extensive new training, he said.

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