Calif. District Criticized Over Services for LEP Students

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A California district is violating various state and federal laws by neglecting its students who are still learning English, state officials concluded in a report this month.

Based on an investigation last May, the California Department of Education found that the 9,000-student Pittsburg district did not properly assess limited- English-proficient students, give them enough instructional materials to have access to the core curriculum, form advisory committees for parents of LEP students, or carry out a parental-waiver process under Proposition 227. The 1998 state ballot initiative largely replaced bilingual education programs with one-year English-immersion programs.

About 1,700 of the district's students have limited proficiency in English.

Pittsburg officials "dismantled their bilingual education program and didn't replace it with anything," according to Ruben J. Rosalez, a parent of two children in the district and a spokesman for an organization of more than 100 parents, teachers, and activists that filed a complaint prompting the state's investigation. Mr. Rosalez said the district's interpretation of Proposition 227 was that "all their mainstream classes qualified as English-immersion classes."

Pittsburg officials did not return phone calls placed last week requesting information about their programs for students learning English or their comment on the state's report. The district, located near Oakland, is also under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights.

Bilingual education advocates have been watching the investigation of the Pittsburg district out of a general concern that LEP students are not being well-served under Proposition 227.

Silvina M. Rubinstein, the executive director of the California Association for Bilingual Education, said she has surmised from her discussions with parents of LEP students that many districts aren't providing adequate textbooks for students learning English or informing parents of their rights to alternative programs under the waiver process allowed by the 1998 ballot measure.

"As the monitoring process continues, I believe there will be other school districts [found] that have not been providing services," Ms. Rubinstein said.

Complaints that two other California districts—Oceanside and Carlsbad— are not offering adequate programs for LEP students are currently under investigation by the state education department and the federal office for civil rights.

OCR Report Awaited

In the Pittsburg case, the two agencies worked together and divided up the concerns each would investigate. The OCR is handling the question of whether the district is offering any special program at all to LEP students, said Stuart F. Greenfeld, an assistant superintendent for the state education department.

"Are services being provided? The office for civil rights is responding to that question," he said.

At a minimum, Mr. Greenfeld said, districts must offer an English- immersion program to LEP students for one year.

It is unclear when the OCR will issue its report, Rodger Murphey, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education, said last week.

"Considering the fact that we're working with another entity—the state of California—it's not unusual for the case to take this long," Mr. Murphey said.

In the meantime, Mr. Rosalez said, precious time is slipping away during which children who are learning English aren't getting an adequate education.

"I come from a community where we have a lot of LEP students," he said. "We need to invest in them now, or we'll be dealing with them later."

The Pittsburg district has 45 days from the state report's release on March 6 to tell department officials how it will remedy its programs to meet the law.

Vol. 19, Issue 29, Page 9

Published in Print: March 29, 2000, as Calif. District Criticized Over Services for LEP Students
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