D.C. Bilingual Education Compromise Struck

Jenkins, Hispanics Agree to Outside Study Before System Is Set Up

D.C. School Superintendent Andrew E. Jenkins has reached a compromise with Hispanic community leaders who have been protesting his plans to reshape bilingual education.

Yesterday’s announcement came two weeks after Jenkins formed a committee of three school officials and three bilingual education activists to mediate the conflict, which has focused on Jenkins’ effort to dismantle the Division of Bilingual Education and create three separate offices.

As part of the new deal, Jenkins will appoint a staff member whose only job will be overseeing bilingual education services.

He also has agreed to allow a team of national and local bilingual education specialists to spend three months shaping a new comprehensive plan for students who do not speak English, the fastest-growing population in the District’s schools. The majority of those students are Hispanic.

Jenkins will not create three bilingual offices at least until the new study group completes its work, which was the protesters’ chief demand.

Some school board members had said complying with the protesters’ request for delay would be a blow to Jenkins’ sweeping reorganization.

Hispanic activists reacted jubilantly to yesterday’s announcement.

“We’ve accomplished having the school system hear us,” said Beatriz Otero, who helped lead the protests and negotiated the settlement. “But my sense is that now is when the real work begins. We still need to be very, very vigilant.”

In a prepared statement, Jenkins said he was pleased with the new understanding.

“I look forward to continued cooperation,” Jenkins said. “Our goal has always been to provide a quality education to language minority students.”

Before the committee reached the compromise, protesters had denounced Jenkins for giving only “bland and insulting” responses to their concerns.

Jenkins’ plan to create bilingual offices — one each to serve high schools, junior highs and elementary schools — is a key element in his drive to reshape the entire District school system’s administration.

With strong school board support, Jenkins has said the changes will enhance bilingual services. Hispanic parents have argued that they will lead to administrative disarray that hurts students. In his budget proposal for the next school year, Jenkins is asking for about $ 900,000 to improve bilingual services.

“We’ve reached a good agreement,” Otero said. “Now if each side honors its word, and gets its work done, we will soon be able to see a much clearer picture of the bilingual services we have now, and what we really need.”

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