A small group of Spanish-speaking parents say Denver schools are barring their children from English-only classes.

About a dozen of these parents and their supporters gathered Thursday outside U.S. District Court to draw attention to their concerns, which also include a lack of data, knowledge about the district’s English Language Acquisition program and qualified teachers.

Three submitted letters asking Chief Judge Richard Matsch for help. He presided over the 1995 case that spawned Denver Public Schools’ court-monitored English Language Acquisition program.

Under the program, Denver schools need parents’ permission before children can receive extra help reserved for non-English speakers.

“No parents should be put into English Language Acquisition against their will,” said Denver School Board President Elaine Berman. “If it’s happening, we need to address it immediately.”

It’s happening, the parents say.

Guadalupe Martinez says her two youngest children are being taught in Spanish at Greenlee Elementary even though, with help from a translator, she signed a waiver requesting English-only classes.

Martinez, a single mother who works two jobs to support her four children and speaks little English, said she didn’t realize what was happening until she attended a parent/teacher conference nine months later.

Miguel Alfaro said his son lost ground academically at Schenck Elementary after he was instructed in Spanish.

Like Martinez, he believes his children have a better chance of succeeding in this country if they learn English at a young age.

The principals of Greenlee and Schenck deny the parents’ accusations.

Schenck Principal Ana Garcia-Gustafson declined to comment on the particulars of Alfaro’s situation. But she said, “We do not force children into any classes, English- or Spanish-speaking. If they (the Alfaros) have an issue with this, I would be happy to sit down and readdress the issue.”

Greenlee Principal Josephine Garcia says Martinez’s children have been receiving English-only instruction all along.

Some English-only students share a classroom with children who receive some Spanish instruction, Garcia said.

“Parents who want English only — we work with them,” Garcia said. “I welcome them to talk about it.”

Martinez says there are many more parents who are too scared to complain that their children have been forced to receive Spanish instruction.

But school board member Lucia Guzman, who represents a heavily Hispanic district in north Denver, says she believes she would have heard more about it if it were widespread.

Board members have heard about other problems with the English Language Acquisition program in recent months.

In December, court monitor and CU education professor Ernest House submitted a report that indicated five of 15 schools he evaluated had “significant numbers of misplaced students.”

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