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Pa. District Agrees to Improve Services for English-Learners

By guest blogger Alyssa Morones

Another district, this time in Pennsylvania, has entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights to provide more equitable educational opportunities for its English-language learner student population, after an investigation found that the district was failing to meet these students' needs.

After an investigation, the office for civil rights found that the Hazleton, Pa., school district was in violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin.

The 11,000-student Hazleton district experienced a boom in its ELL student population in recent years, which grew from around 100 students in 2000 to 1,280 in 2013.

The federal investigators found that the district was inadequately identifying students who may need English-language-development programs, which were already understaffed. Some ELL students were inappropriately excused from English-learner programs and the district did not provide the required instructional time for over 240 elementary students who were enrolled in these programs.

The district also was not evaluating these programs to determine their effectiveness, nor were school officials effectively communicating with English-limited parents.

Under the agreement, the district will make steps to rectify these conditions. These include:

  • Ensuring that students whose primary language at home is not English will be assessed on their English proficiency to determine if they should be placed in an ELL program;
  • Assessing improper exemption of students from assessment to determine if they should receive any language-development services;
  • Conducting comprehensive evaluations of ELL programs at each school to determine their effectiveness and modifying them to meet the district's goals;
  • Developing and implementing policies to ensure that parents not proficient in English are notified in a language they understand of any school activities that other parents are notified of.

This OCR agreement comes just after another agreement with a New Hampshire district, in which the district agreed to make changes to combat discriminatory practices that excluded English-language learners and minority students from higher-level courses.

As that blog also mentioned, these agreements come after the OCR's most recent data release revealing the extent of disparities in educational services for English-language learners and others nationwide.

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