Report: Bilingual Classes Neglected

The state said Orange didn't do enough for students who don't speak English well

Several Orange County schools last year failed to provide enough bilingual instruction for students who don’t speak or understand English well, state education officials have concluded.

Some schools didn’t have required translators. Others didn’t enroll non-English speakers in gifted classes. And several schools didn’t provide parents with documents — such as report cards and testing information — in the parents’ native languages. The findings are part of an inquiry conducted by the Florida Department of Education this past summer. DOE officials visited 18 schools in June.

It is the second year in a row that state officials have cited Orange County schools for not providing enough services to non-English speakers.

“This is what we have been telling the school district all along,” said Evelyn Rivera, an activist who leveled the complaint last spring. “Nothing has changed. It’s the same thing over and over again.”

In Orange County, where 12 percent of schoolchildren lack proficiency in English, teachers encounter students using at least 147 languages — from French, Arabic and Chinese to Haitian-Creole, Portuguese, Vietnamese and Native American dialects. The district spends nearly $50 million on programs for English-language learners — $11 million more than the state gave it.

Nick Gledich, an associate superintendent, said Monday that the district is fixing the problems cited in the DOE report. Also, school officials are deciding whether to expand bilingual programs at some schools, depending on the cost.

“The district will be following through with corrective action at all of the designated schools,” he said. “All schools will be told to do the same, if it’s needed.”

Rivera of Winter Park, along with Radhames Reyes, an Orlando surgeon, and Jose Fernandez of south Orange County, filed a formal complaint with the DOE in April.

They contend that more than 100 public schools here do not offer non-English-speaking students instruction in their native languages in math,
science, social studies and computers.

A team of state education officials spent four days here investigating the complaints.

Among the findings:

There were no teachers assistants to translate for non-English-speaking students at West Ridge and Memorial middle schools and at West Orange and Evans high schools.

Florida schools are required to provide a teacher or assistant teacher proficient in a language spoken by 15 or more non-English-speaking students.

Elaine Scott, principal of Evans High, said she’s hiring three assistants for the Haitian Creole- and Spanish-speaking students. She’s still trying to find someone to translate for Vietnamese-speaking students.

Gledich said the district has given the schools more money to hire more translators. However, he added, schools sometimes have a tough time finding qualified people for the jobs.

At West Orange High, more than 50 non-English-speaking students in grades 9-12 were lumped into the same English class. State law requires such students to study English at their grade level.

Students who are learning English didn’t get to enroll in gifted classes at Liberty and Jackson middle schools. Under state rules, these kids are supposed to have access to these classes, even if they don’t speak English fluently.

Several schools didn’t print documents, such as report cards, discipline forms or testing information, in parents’ native languages. At Cheney Elementary, the principal said that parents would receive letters in English along with a phone number that they could call for translation. DOE officials said that option is not allowed.

DOE officials said they have not finished their inquiry. They plan to return to Orange County later this month to interview more teachers, parents and students. They plan to release a final report in December.



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