Hispanic activists protest to DPS board

Gripes stem from report citing poor academics, limited opportunities for bilingual students

Several Hispanic activists, buoyed by a federal report charging Denver Public Schools with discriminating against limited-English speaking students, protested Thursday against district officials.

About 50 activists angrily accused the school board and Superintendent Irv Moskowitz of acting in bad faith and failing Spanish-speaking youngsters.

They urged the civil rights office of the U.S. Department of Education to force the district to provide equal educational opportunities to children with limited-English speaking skills.

”I just want to say to the board and Irv Moskowitz, ‘Shame on you!’ ” said parent Carol Gutierrez, a member of Padres Unidos, or United Parents, which requested the civil rights investigation of DPS three years ago.

Rep. Nolbert Chavez, D-Denver, also urged the school board to comply with the civil rights report and to work with community representatives on finding a solution to bilingual education.

The poor academic achievement of students ”adds another crack to the foundation of our neighborhoods and our communities,” Chavez told board members.

Earlier in the day, the school district sent the civil rights office its plan to strengthen teaching of Spanish-speaking students. Board members’ Bennie Milliner and Laura Lefkowitz defended the plan to help monolingual Spanish-speaking students become proficient in English while improving their academics.

Milliner said last month’s highly critical civil rights office report used ”outdated information.”

” . . . To make broadsided accusations is not only unfair but premature, ” Milliner said to a chorus of groans from the protesters.

The district’s program could reduce the number of years a child can stay in Spanish-language instruction to three.

After three years the district would assess the child’s academic progress to determine whether the student should continue in Spanish-language instruction or make the transition to English.

The other key component would allow parents to decide whether their children should participate in bilingual education and to pull their sons and daughters out of the program at any time.

Critics of the new DPS plan say the district long has failed to provide qualified teachers and reading materials to help monolingual Spanish speakers. They say studies and experts show that Spanish-language students fare better if taught in their native language for at least seven years.

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