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home : latest news : latest news May 23, 2016

2/25/2014 10:21:00 AM
Feds, Ganado school district reach settlement on ELL instruction
Whitney Ogden
Cronkite News

WASHINGTON - The Justice Department said it has reached a settlement with the Ganado Unified School District over "compliance issues" in the district's handling of its English-language learners (ELL).

Those issues included identification of children for whom English is not their native language, training of teachers in the program and a failure to notify parents - in a language they understand - of opportunities for their children, among other shortcomings cited in the settlement.

The agreement, announced Feb. 18 by the Justice Department Civil Rights Division, will be in effect for the next three school years.

Department officials did not return repeated calls seeking comment on the deal. But in a prepared statement, Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels said the department looks forward to working with the district "as it implements this comprehensive plan to serve effectively its Navajo students who are not yet proficient in English."

Calls to Navajo Nation officials were not returned.

But Ganado Schools Superintendent William Allsbrooks welcomed the settlement Feb. 18. Allsbrooks, who came on as superintendent in 2012, said there are "a couple things that we still need to do, but by and large we're on the right track."

Allsbrooks said problems came to light in 2006, when more than half of the roughly 1,450 students in the mostly Native American district were in the ELL program - what he called a "very rare occurrence."

"It was a failure of the district," Allsbrooks said. "(It) had not done a very thorough job in making sure that they accurately tested and identified all the kids that should have qualified as ELL students."

He said the district at the time had "over-identified the kids qualified for ELL," and when the number of students in ELL fell below 100 the following year, that "raised a red flag."

Calls to other current and former officials with the school district were not returned.

Allsbrooks said that the Arizona Department of Education turned over results of its routine monitoring of the district to the Justice Department last fall. At that point, he said, the school district agreed to work with the Justice Department on a settlement to better the program.

The settlement requires that the district test children who come from non-English speaking homes and provide translators for both the students and their parents. It also calls on the district to offer the proper resources for every ELL student and to annually report the progress and efforts made in the program.

The district is also obligated to provide annual "comprehensive training" to instructors involved in the Individual Language Learner Plan and the Structured English Immersion program. That training would include learning and evaluating strategies to integrate ELL students into English-speaking classes, and tapping experts in English language development programs to provide instructors and administrators feedback after classroom observation.

Ganado schools now have fewer than 50 students enrolled in ELL, which Allsbrooks called a more "normal" amount.

"The program that we got in place now is working," he said.

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