Padres Unidos, a Denver advocacy group for bilingual education, took an important step toward ensuring language education services for minorites by filing a class-action complaint against Denver Public Schools June 3 at the education division of the Office of Civil Rights.
In a separate case, television production instructor Luisa Vigil filed a discrimination complaint June 7 against Denver Public Schools’ Fred N. Thomas Career Education Center. Vigil, the only Latina bilingual instructor at the center, taught broadcasting to mostly minority students who produced programs on Asians, Native Americans, Latinos, African-Americans and disabled American veterans for TCI channels 22 and 50.
Sixty parents who have children attending Denver’s bilingual schools signed the four-page Padres Unidos complaint, which seeks to secure equal educational opportunities for limited English-speaking students.
The complaint seeks to address ”inequity between bilingual education and mainstream education,” said Pam Martinez, a legal secretary and member of Padres Unidos, ”and there’s the 1976 court order (Keyes vs. Denver School District No. 1) on bilingual education, which states that in order to achieve bilingual education there are things that must be done, and Denver is not in compliance.”
Among the issues addressed in the complaint:
* Unqualified teachers – Padres Unidos claims monolingual instructors commit to learn a second language before being hired. Padres Unidos said teachers use this loophole to gain entry into DPS, disregard learning a second language and provide monolingual instruction in bilingual classrooms. ”DPS allows teachers three years to become bilingual,” Martinez said, ”If they do not become bilingual, they have their foot in the door to become a regular teacher in a non-bilingual classroom. . . . We really feel the education of the children is being sacrificed and that it is directly related to the dropout rate. A lot of the parents and kids have experienced having teachers teach them in English. They continually fail because they don’t understand what’s going on. After a while they leave. It’s a degrading and humiliating process.”
* Student / teacher ratio – Padres Unidos seeks enforcement of the court- ordered student-teacher ratio of 15 students to one instructor.
* Bilingual notices – Again, enforcement is sought in the distribution of bilingual notices for all meetings, school activities and informational handouts to parents.
* Materials / resources – They seek enforcement of the court order mandating equal availability of bilingual materials in classrooms and libraries comparable to that of all other programs.
* Equal access – Seeks equal access for bilingual students to sports and extracurricular activities, which Padres Unidos claims doesn’t exist.
* Restore full-time paraprofessionals – The court order mandates every bilingual teacher have a paraprofessional assistant in the classroom. But Padres Unidos claims paraprofessional work shifts have been cut in half and that most assistants were being used to teach in Spanish because bilingual instructors were remaining monolingual.
”They (Office of Civil Rights) will be contacting us to investigate the complaint,” Martinez said. ”They will interview parents as complainants. They want to hear what the violations of the court order are in the schools.
”There has to be testimony and the information will be assessed to see if there is a violation of civil rights. If there is, then you can get into the question of federal funds being cut. That will put pressure on DPS.”
Martinez said Padres Unidos’ goal is to ”make a dent in realizing equal opportunity through the education of all children.”