Immigrants' needs unmet, educators say

Panel pushes bilingual plan

Children who are not proficient in English are about 10 times less likely than regular students to receive help in special education — an oversight that may be causing some of them to fall behind in school, the Gwinnett County school board was told Thursday.

A panel, made up of local principals, counselors and ESOL teachers, presented a list of recommendations to the board on how to better serve the county’s rising immigrant student population.

One of the more controversial recommendations was to pilot a dual-language program, in which students would switch between learning in English and learning in another language. The group, citing a disproportionate number of regular students in special ed, also called for the system to have more teachers, psychologists and paraprofessionals who are bilingual and potentially better able to identify the needs of non-English speaking students.

“These students are at a higher risk of academic failure,” Norcross Elementary School principal Angela Pringle said. “We need more bilingual support staff to help identify their needs.”

In the 1999-2000 school year, about 10 percent of Gwinnett’s regular students were placed in special education classes. In contrast, less than 1 percent of the system’s 6,341 students in English for speakers of other languages were identified for special ed.

Under the dual-language program, students would work with two teachers, at least one of whom would be bilingual. Students would potentially learn a half-day in Spanish and half in English, said Jaime Espinosa, the principal at Summerour Middle School.

“The idea would be to keep the students up on content while not sacrificing language,” he said. Under the system, English-speaking students also would get the opportunity to learn a second language if their parents agreed.

School board member Robert McClure said he would be “resistant to the idea” of bilingual education.

“I would be concerned that it could take away from the regular schoolchildren who have lived here all their lives,” he said. “I wouldn’t want them to be penalized.”

Gwinnett schools currently have 18,262 students whose primary language is not English.

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