How Denver Public Schools should teach its 13,000-plus students who speak little or no English is now in the hands of the U.S. Department of Justice.

The U.S. Department of Education’s office of civil rights formally submitted a letter of noncompliance late Monday to the Justice Department, reaffirming its findings that DPS fails to adequately teach students with limited English-speaking skills.

Department of Justice officials will now decide whether to take the school district to court to enforce a court-ordered bilingual plan or to yank as much as $ 30 million in grants as punishment.

“It’s strictly up to the Justice Department right now,” said Roger Murphy, spokesman for the Department of Education. “We’re asking them to enforce our findings.”

DPS officials said Tuesday that they hope negotiations go a little smoother than they did with the Department of Education.

“In a way, we’re kind of looking forward to it,” DPS Superintendent Irv Moskowitz said. “The office of civil rights wanted a program run their way, rigid and not the best way to serve the kids. What we intend to do is the best job we can. For us to do that, we want to go about some things in a different way.”

Department of Justice officials could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

According to the Education Department, DPS’ plan fails in several areas, chiefly, how the district should assess students entering and exiting the bilingual program. The Department of Education wants standardized tests, DPS doesn’t.

DPS also has detailed plans to transition students out of the program after three years, but the government wants more than three years.

The district’s bilingual plan has remained 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 still sign off on any changes before they can be implemented.

While the case promises to be a long one, possibly several years, Moskowitz vowed that the district will not jeopardize the $ 30 million in federal funding just to make a point.

“We’re so far removed from that there’s no need to be alarmed,” he said. “We hope to work with the Justice Department and come to some kind of agreement.”

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