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Civil Rights Group Opposes Plans for Maryland English-Learner High Schools

The Prince George's County, Md., NAACP chapter is mulling legal action to halt plans to open two new high schools for the community's growing population of immigrant students and English-language learners.

NAACP chapter leaders have questions about whether the district's plans run counter to Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 decision that declared that separate public schools for black and white students violated the Constitution, said Bob Ross, president of the Prince George's NAACP.

"We want programs open to all residents," he said. "Once you spell out a specific group of people a school serves, that's where the problem comes in."

Officials in Prince George's, a school system of 125,000 students just outside Washington, plans to open the high schools in fall 2015. The district, along with CASA de Maryland, an immigrant advocacy group and the International Network for Public Schools, a network of high schools that serve ELLs, secured a $3 million grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York to help pay for the new schools.

The schools will join 18 others across the country and two similar programs in the Washington region that are part of the Internationals Network for Public Schools and Carnegie's Opportunity by Design initiative. T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria opened an academy in 2012, and Cardozo High School in the District opened one in August.

According to The Washington Post, Prince George's schools chief Kevin Maxwell said he is unaware of any legal dilemmas with any of the other schools.

Tehani Collazo, senior director for schools and community engagement at CASA, said the district's large comprehensive high schools haven't adequately met the needs of English-language learners.

Each of the new schools is slated to open with 100 9th graders and will add 100 students each year until the schools reach their maximum capacity of 400 students.

In Prince George's, almost 30 percent of the district's students are from other countries, and nearly half of those students have limited English proficiency. About 63 percent of the students in the county who receive ELL support services graduate from high school in four years, nine percentage points lower than the county's overall graduation rate.

"We have work to do and we expect these schools to be part of the solution," Collazo said.

One school, to serve recently-arrived immigrant students, will open on the Largo High School campus as a "school within a school." The second school will be a new, neighborhood high school in Langley Park, which is home to a large Central American immigrant community. Prince George's officials have not revealed the site, but could so early next month, Collazo said.

The Washington Post reports that some parents at Largo High School are upset about plans to make the building one of the locations because the district has not adequately addressed concerns about the quality of education for students who already attend the school.

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