Denver Public Schools submitted a final draft of its bilingual plan Thursday, the same day that Hispanic leaders rallied outside a school board meeting criticizing the district’s efforts.

“I have no hesitation in coming forth and defending this plan as a quality, fair and equitable one,” Superintendent Irv Moskowitz said before the meeting. “I’m satisfied we have a plan that we can defend at any level.”

The district’s defensive posture comes a week after the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights said DPS had violated federal law by failing to adequately educate children with limited English skills.

Threatening to cut off at least $ 30 million in federal funding, the Office for Civil Rights gave DPS 10 days to submit its final version. Now the Office for Civil Rights has 10 days to review the plan, Moskowitz said. If the federal government does not feel the plan meets the needs of students, the case will go to U.S. Department of Justice for enforcement.

“If this plan brings us closer to resolution, even though there are some unresolved issues, we would certainly entertain some discussions with the district before going to enforcement,” said Roger Murphy, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education.

Highlights of the plan include: three years of native language instruction, then gradual transition into mainstream classes; monitoring of students after they have left the bilingual program; consideration of parents’ views in reinstating a student in the program; and extra staffing at schools where there are higher numbers of non-speaking English students.

Meanwhile, outside the DPS administration building Thursday evening, about 60 Hispanic community leaders, parents and children held signs saying “We’re sick of broken promises” and “Bottom line: DPS discriminates” and “Restore bilingual education.”

Pam Martinez, co-chair of Padres Unidos, which staged the rally and filed the complaint against the district, criticized DPS officials, saying they are “guilty of racism” and have ignored the needs of non-English speaking children for too long.

“Our children are being put into special education because they don’t speak English,” she told the crowd gathered outside. “DPS is responsible for the failure of bilingual education.”

Inside, school board members defended their new plan after the rallygoers packed the meeting.

“Many of the concerns are addressed in this plan,” school board member
Laura Lefkowits said.

Board member Bennie Milliner said the Office for Civil Rights overreacted to an earlier summary of the district’s plan, which had not been updated since submitted in March.

“Our conclusion is that the OFC is operating with outdated information,” he said.

The bilingual program, which now serves 13,000 Denver students, remains under federal jurisdiction since its inception in 1984. Either the Congress of Hispanic Educators, the plaintiffs in litigation that resulted in federal control, or Chief District Judge Richard Matsch must approve the major changes before they can be implemented.

Denver isn’t alone in its struggle to implement bilingual education. The federal government also said 19 other state school districts were failing to adequately educate students with limited English skills. Seventeen of those, however, have come up with acceptable plans.

A major sticking point has been when to exit students from the bilingual program.

Some parents feel that students should be allowed to remain in the classes for more than the three years. But school officials argue that some students have remained in bilingual classes even after they have mastered English, which is cost-prohibitive.

Denver Post Education Writer Janet Bingham contributed to this report.

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