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Court Backs Teachers Fired Over English Fluency

A state appeals court in Massachusetts has upheld the reinstatement with full back pay of three teachers who were fired by their school district for "failure to demonstrate fluency in English."

A three-judge panel of the mid-level Massachusetts Court of Appeals on Sept. 25 unanimously upheld decisions by an arbitrator and a state trial court that the Lowell school district had violated the teachers' procedural rights because the teachers could not cross-examine the graders of a standardized oral-proficiency the teachers had failed.

Also, the district failed to follow state guidelines by not relying first on classroom observation of the teachers' English fluency, the court said.

The decision in School Committee of Lowell v. Oung is available at the site of the Massachussetts Reporter of Decisions under Appeals Court opinions.

Two of the teachers had emigrated from Cambodia, and the third was from Puerto Rico. They were terminated in 2003 by the Lowell district, which was seeking to comply with state regulations requiring that it certify annually that all its teachers were literate and fluent in English. The teachers were tenured and had received satisfactory evaluations for several years before their firing, the appeals court said.

The three teachers challenged the dismissal with the help of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which has this press release about the decision.

The Lowell Sun says in this story that the school district was still evaluating the ruling.

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