APS Sending Wrong Kids To Classes, Lawsuit Says

A group of parents on Monday was expected to file a federal suit against Albuquerque Public Schools, demanding the district terminate its bilingual education program.

The parents — who are joined by the Center for Equal Opportunity, a nonprofit organization in Washington — claim that APS’ bilingual programs discriminate against Hispanics by segregating them into classes where they fail to learn English.

The lawsuit also alleges that other students — including Anglos and Hispanics — are improperly placed in bilingual instruction, even though their primary language is English.

Plaintiffs also claim that to get money for bilingual education, APS singles out English-speaking students for language instruction simply because of their national origin or Hispanic surname.

APS spokeswoman Jennifer Dunstan said the district officials will not comment on the lawsuit until they have reviewed it.

“But I can state that APS does not unlawfully discriminate against any student,” she said. “We anticipate being able to respond fully at a later time.”

Jorge Amselle, a spokesman for the Center for Equal Opportunity, said 14 students are included in the suit.

Of them, he said, seven speak only English, but were placed in bilingual instruction anyway.

The others, he said, were properly placed in the courses. But they were denied an equal education because they did not receive substantial English language instruction.

As a result, the suit claims, the district is violating rights guaranteed to students in the state and federal constitutions.

The Center for Equal Opportunity was founded by former New Mexican Linda Chavez, who served as director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 1983-85.

Chavez and the Center for Equal Opportunity are seeking to end bilingual education programs nationally.

More than 50 APS schools have bilingual programs. New Mexico law requires that students learn English, but receive instruction in math, history and other subjects in their primary language.

Students are to remain in bilingual instruction until tests indicate they have adequate English skills to be introduced into regular classes.

Amselle said the plaintiffs want APS to abandon such programs, favoring “English-as-a-second-language” courses, where students with limited language skills are taught in English by teachers who speak only English.

In 1995, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights concluded that APS was failing to provide adequate instruction to students with limited English skills.

The federal findings also said that many APS students were improperly placed in Spanish/English bilingual courses.

As a result, the federal government required APS to start a testing system to identify students who might need language assistance.

The district uses “home language surveys” completed by parents to determine who should be tested.

Students whose surveys indicate that English is not the primary language in their homes are tested to see how well they read and write in English.

Those who fail to score above the 50th percentile on a standardized test are then assigned to either bilingual or English-as-a-second-language classes.

But Amselle said he and the plaintiffs question whether the district’s screening process properly identifies children who need English instruction.

“Either they are not testing all the kids, or their testing method is flawed,” he said.

One parent involved in the lawsuit said her two children were placed in bilingual classes even though she sent the district a survey stating that English was the language spoken most at home.

“They just ignored what I put on the survey and placed them in the classes anyway,” said Vivian Doak.

The lawsuit demands $140,000 in damages, $10,000 of which would go to each student.

Albuquerque attorneys David Standridge and Charles Buckland have agreed to represent the parents without charge.

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