At a community meeting Saturday, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Irv Moskowitz promised to meet with Hispanic community leaders and work through their concerns for bilingual education in Denver’s schools.

But the parents and leaders at the meeting said it will take more than a promise to talk to address what they see as a crisis in the Denver Public Schools’ bilingual education program.

“Even though Irv said he would come to the table, we don’t stop demonstrating, we don’t stop picketing and we don’t stop our other activities,” said Pam Martinez, co-chairwoman of Padres Unidos, which recently filed a complaint against DPS regarding its bilingual education efforts and accused the school board of racism.

“Alone, none of us can do this. We are just fingers on a hand. But this is an example of a fist,” Martinez said, gesturing to the audience of more than 100 that packed a room in Denver’s Escuela Tlateloco. Padres Unidos has asked Moskowitz to consider appointing two Hispanic leaders to a four-member committee within the school board to look into the state of Denver’s bilingual education program. At Saturday’s meeting, Moskowitz said he would support the plan.

“What we want desperately is a good objective discussion with a limited amount of subjectivity, so we can really talk about what is best for these kids,” Moskowitz said. “What I’m intent on doing is making sure our kids are on their feet and able to make a contribution to their families and their community.”

Denver’s bilingual education program is being reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice, after the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights found last year that DPS failed to adequately teach students with limited English speaking skills.

The bilingual program, which was created in 1984, serves more than 13,000 students in Denver.

DPS has adamantly stood behind its bilingual program. DPS could lose $ 30 million in federal funding if it fails to make the changes mandated by the Department of Education.

The school board’s plan calls for three years of classes taught in Spanish before students are merged into regular classes. Opponents say that is not enough.

But Moskowitz said the program already is improving. He said Saturday morning programs and night classes at local schools are lowering the Hispanic dropout rate. He said the dropout rate for Hispanics fell from 12.9 percent in 1993 to 8.5 percent in 1997.

“That is an enormous step in the right direction,” he said.

But the parents and leaders in the meeting were skeptical of those figures. Only three weeks ago they were told that only one out of every two Hispanic students graduates from high school in Denver Public Schools.

State Rep. Gloria Leyba, D-Denver, said the 8.5 percent figure represented only a portion of Hispanic students in Denver’s high schools.

“I think this is an accurate number, but you just have to know what it is,” she said. “You have to start adding these numbers together and you’ll find it may be technically correct, but it’s not true.”

The parents and community leaders at Saturday’s meeting were heartened by Moskowitz’s agreement to open discussions with the Hispanic community but remained wary of his intentions.

“I’m glad he was here, but I think he really came because of political pressure,” said Ramon Del Castillo, chairman of Denver’s Latino Education Commission. “But it’s through pressure like this that lets him know we’re not going to sit back and let our kids fail. We won’t be fooled by a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

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