BOSTON, Dec. 13—With a Federal court’s approval, the public schools of Lowell, Mass., are starting one of the nation’s most far-reaching programs of instruction and special services for students and parents whose first language is not English.
Last Friday a Federal court here approved the plan as part of a settlement of a suit against Lowell, a city of 95,000 residents 35 miles northwest of Boston. The suit, brought by the parents of Southeast Asian and Hispanic students in 1987, charged that school officials had deliberately segregated the children and provided them with an inferior education.
”This plan is on the cutting edge and will advance what we think of as bilingual education,” said James J. Lyons, a lawyer for the National Association for Bilingual Education, an advocacy group. ”It seems comprehensive enough to be a national model.”
Search for Dropouts
The Lowell agreement includes these unusual features:
* The school district must try to find all the hundreds of children who dropped out of school since 1986, when turmoil overtook a system unable to absorb a large influx of students who did not speak English. The dropouts will be offered a bilingual or standard educational program.
* A school for bilingual instruction will be established, bringing together students of all degrees of competency in English and emphasizing American and Hispanic cultures. The school must have roughly a 60-40 ratio of white and minority students, as required by a state desegregation plan.
* Parents who speak little or no English will not only receive all school notices in their native language but will also have interpreters available at school board meetings and student disciplinary hearings.
* Counselors and tutors will be on call to help students who leave the bilingual program.
Plan Calls for Hirings
The Lowell schools have 13,600 students. About 42 percent, or 5,691, are from minority groups, mostly Cambodians, Laotians or children of Hispanic heritage. About 2,900 are in the bilingual program. In 1980, 17 percent of the system’s students were from minority groups, with 454 pupils getting bilingual education.
A new arm of the Lowell School Committee will be set up to oversee the new plan. The district will hire more administrators, teachers, guidance counselors and other specialists for the program.
The Federal court will monitor the plan, whose cost is estimated to be $159,000 for this school year, said a lawyer for the parents, Camilo Perez-Bustillo.
The suit was filed after the city schools, pressed for space, put many pupils who did not speak English in makeshift classrooms, like a former boiler room and a former ladies’ room. Classes were often large and the age span of students great.
Mayor Favors Plan
”The entire bilingual program was under attack and should have been,” Mayor Richard P. Howe said. The new plan will help the entire city, he said, adding, ”If the minority kids are floundering, the majority will suffer too.”
George D. Kouleharas, a school committee member who opposes the plan, said: ”Let’s teach the three R’s and forget about social engineering. Bilingual education is a disservice to these kids because it keeps them from learning English like other immigrants did.”
Alex Huertas, president of the Hispanic Parents’ Advisory Council, which was a plaintiff in the suit, said the plan would improve the quality of education and community relations. But he cautioned, ”We don’t completely trust the city or school administration because they haven’t been sincere with us.”
But one expert in bilingual education said that since a settlement was negotiated, rather than imposed by the court, community support for it and the school system are more likely. ”Lowell was a time bomb,” said Martha Montero-Sieburth, an assistant professor of education at Harvard University. ”But now the schools should be able to work with the community.”