Feds look into Carlsbad schools' programs for limited-English kids

CARLSBAD — Federal civil rights officials are evaluating a complaint that Carlsbad schools have discriminated against limited-English-speaking students.

Oscar De la Riva, president of the district’s English language parent advisory committee, filed the complaint with the federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, which agreed to begin an investigation last week.

It alleges that the Carlsbad Unified School District is failing to offer adequate programs for limited-English-speaking students and to provide parents with information in a language they can understand.

The Office for Civil Rights evaluates every complaint under its jurisdiction, and investigators handled 6,628 in the nation last year, said Rodger Murphey, spokesman for the department. The next step will be to review the district’s response to the allegations and determine whether an on-site investigation is warranted, he said.

De la Riva’s complaint has three central allegations:

[] That limited-English speakers do not have access to a program which would allow them to gain the English-language proficiency necessary to ensure their equal participation in schooling with native speakers. The contention is that the district has no curriculum or evaluation process for its bilingual or sheltered-English classes to ensure an effective program.

[] That limited-English-speaking students and parents at Aviara Oaks and Hope elementary schools do not have access to information about activities, that the information is not translated into a language they can understand.

[] That limited-English-speaking students do not have an equal opportunity to participate in the Gifted and Talented Education program. The contention is that the criteria for limited-English-speaking students are too vague to know who would be eligible. Assistant Superintendent Susan Bentley said that the district has come a long way in providing services for its non-English-proficient students during the past decade.

The district does have a curriculum for its bilingual and sheltered-English classes, and the criteria for getting into the Gifted and Talented Education program are quite specific, Bentley said.

At some schools, such as Aviara, where students speak 16 languages, translating every document for parents is not possible, the assistant superintendent said, but members of the community are often on hand to act as translators, and important districtwide newsletters are at least translated into Spanish.

About 10 percent of Carlsbad’s 8,800 students are classified as limited-English-proficient. Last year, 38 percent of these students were enrolled in bilingual classes.

Proposition 227, the voter-approved California initiative, which mandated that teaching be done overwhelmingly in English, included a clause providing for the exemption of some children from English-only instruction. No school has to provide bilingual education until it has granted 20 exemptions in one grade. The Office for Civil Rights is investigating the Oceanside Unified School District, which is not providing any bilingual education.

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