Program to Aid New Students

More bilingual help needed for immigrant children, critics say

The Seattle School District yesterday announced a summer school program for newly-arrived immigrant students.

But backers of a class-action lawsuit calling for improvements in bilingual programs said the program is not enough.

“It is time to offer more academic help to the newest and the neediest of our students,” said Michael Donlin, a district administrator who helped develop the program.

Using a $300,000 three-year federal grant, the summer program will offer U.S. history courses as a vehicle to teach non-English-speaking students to read and write.

The classes will also include lessons for new arrivals on how to get along in a new country, facts that are now taught in the district’s Bilingual Orientation Centers, special schools for immigrant children before they move to regular schools.

The district is battling a lawsuit that charges the public schools have not done enough to educate non-English-speaking students. Among the issues outlined in the suit by Evergreen Legal Services is the request for more native language instruction and more opportunities for immigrant students to take courses required for their graduation, such as math and English.

Deborah Perluss, an Evergreen attorney working on the lawsuit, applauded the district’s move but said it should not become a substitute for real reform of its bilingual programs.

“It’s good that they’re trying to address the needs of limited English-proficient secondary students but it underscores a greater need for access to the regular curriculum during the year,” Perluss said.

Many newly-arrived immigrant secondary students cannot get into the classes they need for graduation, Perluss said.

School administrators said the program was not introduced in response to the lawsuit.

“This wasn’t done with the lawsuit in mind but if it addresses a portion of it that’s good,” Donlin said.

There are many issues the summer program will not address, Perluss said, including expanding regular curriculum so that immigrant children who arrive in the district mid-year are not locked out of history, physical education and music courses.

Perluss said summer programs should consist of enrichment courses and not remedial classes.

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