Federal Officials Take Denver to Task Over Bilingual Ed. Program

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The federal government and the Denver school district are at odds over the direction of bilingual education in the city's schools.

The U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights notified the district this summer that it is in violation of federal law because of shortcomings in its program for educating limited-English-proficient students.

A 22-page letter from the OCR states that the district's bilingual education program is less demanding than the general curriculum; that many bilingual education teachers do not have appropriate Spanish-language abilities; and that some students receive services from paraprofessionals instead of certified teachers.

The OCR on July 31 described as "insufficient" a draft proposal for restructuring the program that the district submitted last spring.

The Education Department warned that it would turn the case over to the U.S. Department of Justice for enforcement. That step could result in the district's losing some or all of its $30 million in total federal aid.

'Fundamental Disagreement'

Denver officials have responded that the OCR did not wait to receive a final draft of its new "English Language Acquisition Program." The district submitted the plan to the federal government Aug. 7.

The two sides have held meetings since then but still appear to be far apart.

"We have a pretty fundamental disagreement [with the OCR] about who ought to be served and whether teachers and principals can use their professional judgment" in assessing whether children need language services, said Mark Stevens, a spokesman for the Denver district.

About 13,000 of the district's 66,000 students have limited proficiency in English.

The district's plan calls for LEP students to have three years of instruction in their native language and then a gradual transition into regular classrooms. The plan has been denounced by Hispanic groups in the city as inadequate, and it has not satisfied the OCR.

The latest plan "does not adequately address the compliance problems found in our investigation," said Rodger Murphey, a spokesman for the Education Department.

The two sides were scheduled to meet again this week.

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