Time's up, but DPS likely to keep bilingual monitor

The last day of school Friday marked the end of University of Colorado professor Ernest House’s three-year watch over Denver Public Schools’ court-ordered bilingual education program for 16,000 Spanish speakers.

But it looks like House might not be going anywhere. That’s because both plaintiffs and defendants in the case want him to stay.

“We definitely believe the monitor ought to be extended another year, if not longer,” said Peter Roos, a California attorney who represents the Congress of Hispanic Educators, plaintiffs in the case. “I would have almost no doubt the court would grant approval.”

DPS staff has informally agreed to extend the court-ordered monitoring period by a year, said Wayne Eckerling, the district’s assistant superintendent for research, planning and special projects. The school board will have to sign off on the plan.

House’s December report noted several issues to work on, including the fact that the annual percentage of English language learners exiting the district’s bilingual program has fallen since 1997 from 14.2 to 12.2 percent.

Under the 1999 court decree House uses to guide his monitoring, students aim to exit the program within three years.

The program’s official name is English Language Acquisition, or ELA. It places Spanish speakers in classrooms where the amount of English gradually increases and the amount of Spanish lessens until teachers believe the student is ready for regular classes.

ELA grew out of the 1974 landmark Keyes case that forced Denver Public Schools to racially integrate by busing students. The program lasted more than 20 years.

A 1982 trial under the umbrella of the Keyes case led to a 1984 court ruling that the district’s approach to English language learners was violating federal civil rights laws. Plaintiffs and defendants negotiated a decree to end the violations.

A new court order was negotiated starting about five years ago, as DPS was investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights for failing to adequately educate English-language learners. The result was a 1999 court order that is still in affect.

Roos stressed that, regardless of what happens to the court monitor, the court order is still in affect.

“The monitor’s report reflects some of the problems but not all of them,” he said. “But we think the monitor has been useful.”

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