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At Behest of Feds, Michigan District Agrees to Improve Services for ELLs

A school in suburban Detroit with a large enrollment of Arab-American students has agreed to dramatically improve instruction and services for its English-language learners under the terms of a settlement agreement with federal civil rights officials.

The agreement—announced last week—is the culmination of a more than two-year-long investigation  by the U.S. Department of Justice into the Crestwood school district's practices for English-learners.  About 14 percent of the 3,600 students in the district, which serves part of the city of Dearborn Heights, Mich., are English-learners, and most of them are native Arabic speakers. 

The settlement agreement—spelled out in 31 pages—is very prescriptive.

Specifically, the district, which serves a growing number of Arab-American students, must hire a more diverse staff and communicate more effectively with parents who do not speak English.

The district agreed that all English-learners will receive language services from certified English-as-a-second-language teachers, either in classes where they are pulled out to receive instruction for part of the school day or in a "push-in" model, where the ESL teacher provides language instruction to students in regular classrooms.

The agreement also calls for the district's core-content teachers to be trained in sheltered-instruction strategies that integrate the teaching of grade-level content with language and literacy development. Additionally, the district must place a bilingual paraeducator in each school to work with select ELLs who need native language support.

And all  new teachers in the district will have to obtain a "valid ESL endorsement" from the Michigan department of education within three years of being hired, according to the settlement.

Despite agreeing to the terms of the settlement, district officials did not admit to any wrongdoing. Civil rights officials began investigating the district's practices in 2011 after receiving a complaint from a local attorney

Federal civil rights officials will closely monitor the situation, requiring the district to regularly submit reports on its progress over the next four years.

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