District tells North to teach in Spanish

Denver school has failed to offer court ordered classes to limited English students, official says

Denver Public Schools has ordered North High School to start teaching its Spanish-speaking students in their native language, after officials discovered about half were being instructed in English.

The district’s Bilingual Education Department said the school is not complying with a federal court order requiring students who speak limited English to be taught in Spanish in the core science, social studies and math classes. These students also must take at least one English course during the semester.

About 450 students at North High School have been identified by the bilingual department as Spanish speakers with limited English proficiency.

Jo Thomas, director of the bilingual department, said in the last two years district officials became aware that most of the bilingual teachers assigned to North High School were not providing Spanish instruction to Spanish-speaking students.

Nine teachers were supposed to be assigned to North High School’s bilingual program. Thomas said only ”a few” were providing bilingual services.

Instead, the teachers were used to instruct courses having nothing to do with bilingual education.

”We will not take their native language away. I will not do it,” Thomas said.

North High School prinicipal Joe Sandoval said the district has not provided his school with a sufficient number of Spanish-speaking instructors.

”We have had very few teachers in Colorado who are able to teach some of those subjects,” Sandoval said.

As a result, Sandoval decided to use some of the teachers assigned to the bilingual program for other student needs. Sandoval is reviewing resumes of possible teachers for next fall’s bilingual program.

The directive by the bilingual department rekindled the dispute over bilingual education and how it is administered. The bilingual program of Denver Public Schools has frequently been criticized.

Proponents of bilingual education complain that Spanish-speaking students are lumped into the core classes that are taught in English. Critics said the students are unable to understand the subject matter and fall behind their classmates.

Supporters of bilingual education also want to ensure that Spanish-speaking students learn their native language.

They cite studies that indicate students taught in the core subjects in their native language while learning English absorb the new language better.

Opponents of the bilingual program complain that Spanish-speaking students who are taught in their native language do not make progress in English because they are taught in a language they already know.

The school district also has told North that students who speak languages other than Spanish and English – primarily 51 Asian students – should be encouraged to transfer to other high schools so North can concentrate on Spanish bilingual programs.

Those students will be given the opportunity to attend South and Abraham Lincoln high schools, which have teachers able to instruct in other languages.

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