Civil rights attorney to visit schools

He will investigate complaints that the San Bernardino district is denying an adequate education to students with limited English skills.

SAN BERNARDINO—The federal education department’s Office of Civil Rights will send a team of investigators to San Bernardino schools next week to explore allegations that students who are not proficient in English are being denied an adequate education.

Louis Garcia, a civil rights attorney, said he will visit campuses with high numbers of students who speak English as a second language. He will also meet privately with parents and district employees. The office will investigate whether the district has enough qualified staff for non-native English speakers and whether school officials have monitored the effectiveness of their programs.

The Mexican-American Political Association banded together in December with the California Parents Association, an education advocacy group, and alleged that the San Bernardino City Unified School District was improperly banning Hispanic children with limited English skills from bilingual classes. About 100 parents also signed onto the complaint.

Under Prop. 227, the anti-bilingual education initiative approved last year, districts are required to provide bilingual classes at schools where 20 or more parents sign waivers. Otherwise, the new law requires all instruction to be overwhelmingly in English.

Delfina Bryant, who oversees programs for students learning English in San Bernardino, said she was not daunted by the investigation.

“It’s fine,” Bryant said. “I feel we’ve done a lot in our district with these programs, and if they find something wrong, we’ll just correct it. ”

Garcia said his office rarely sends investigators to school sites.

“But this is a big district and the allegations concern the entire program districtwide,” he said. “We just want to get as much information as possible. ”

Steve Figueroa, national MAPA vice president, alleged that the district “sent spies” into the parent bilingual advisory committee meetings and harassed the children of parents who spoke out against alleged unfair policies and practices. He said parents complained of being shouted at by school employees.

Marisol Naso, who coordinates many of the programs for English learners, said that the bilingual advisory meetings are open to the public and district staff often come to offer support, not to spy.

“Sometimes assistant principals will come to support a parent representative of their school,” she said.

Gil Navarro, who founded the California Parents Association, said services are denied to students with limited English proficiency in the special education program.

“For example we need a bilingual therapist, not an English-speaking one to evaluate the kids’ speech,” he said.

Navarro said another concern was that students who are not fluent in English are being taught by a high proportion of teachers who are not fully credentialed. Often children are used as translators instead of staff, Navarro said.

Naso acknowledged that the shortage of bilingual teachers, which has plagued school districts throughout the state, has presented a challenge. She said the district is trying to boost recruitment efforts and place the non-bilingual teachers with students in the higher grades.

Hispanic parents have been especially vocal about concerns that certain schools are denying a decent education to students who are not proficient in English.

In November, Navarro helped parents at Oehl Elementary School file a complaint charging Principal Linda Campbell with deciding to cut bilingual classes next year without talking to parents first.

School administrators said all changes are on hold until the district determines how many parents want their children to remain in bilingual classes next school year.

Parent demand for bilingual education has driven Oehl, along with other campuses, to continue to offer the programs in spite of Prop.

227’s directive that children be taught mostly in English.

Patricia Padilla, secretary of the district’s bilingual advisory committee, complained that some parents were being pressured not to sign up for bilingual education classes.

Naso said the district understands that parents want their children to remain at their neighborhood campus. “We’re trying really hard to make that happen,” she said.

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