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Boston District and Feds Settle on How to Fix ELL Violations

The U.S. Department of Justice and Education reached a settlement agreement today on how Boston Public Schools will fix violations of the civil rights of English-language learners, according to a press release issued this morning from the Justice Department.

Since 2003, the Boston school district "has failed to properly identify and adequately serve thousands of English Language Learner (ELL) students as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964," the release says. The Boston school district cooperated with a joint investigation by the Justice and Education departments into those violations.

The issues of not properly identifying ELLs and having students "opt out" of services when they were entitled by federal law to have them date back to 2003, according to the release. About 4,300 students were not properly identified and about 4,000 students were inappropriately labeled as having opted out of services. I wrote about those problems in an EdWeek article published in July, "Reviews Find ELL Programs Lacking in Four Districts."

The school district has agreed to a number of practices to address the problems. They include assessing students in the four domains of listening, speaking, reading, and writing (not just speaking and listening) to determine if they need ELL services, and providing sheltered English classes to ELLs in core content classes, such as math and science. That means that teachers of those classes will use techniques specifically designed to reach ELLs.

I'm now trying to see if I can get a copy of the settlement agreement to share with readers of edweek.org. Stay tuned for a story on this topic that I expect will be published this afternoon.

The Justice Department has opened investigations into the services provided to ELLs in 15 school districts since President Obama took office in January 2009, so we may be seeing more of these kinds of settlement agreements coming down the pike from other school districts as well.

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