[lg policy] Rhode Island Legal Services and the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island are suing the state Department of Education over a policy in Providence t
haroldfs at gmail.com
Mon Apr 15 11:25:57 EDT 2019
Rhode Island Legal Services and the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode
Island are suing the state Department of Education over a policy in
Providence they say shortchanges the rights of English language learners.
PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island Legal Services and the American Civil Liberties
Union of Rhode Island are suing the state Department of Education over a
policy in Providence they say shortchanges the rights of English language
The appeal seeks to overturn a ruling by state education Commissioner Ken
Wagner, who upheld the Providence school department’s method of providing
services to English language learners. The ACLU and Legal Services claim
that the Rhode Island Department of Education, in its ruling, provides less
support to those students than federal law requires.
Long concerned about the inadequate educational services provided to
English learners, the two organizations filed an administrative complaint
with the Department of Education in 2016 on behalf of parents in Providence
whose children were receiving little or no instruction by a certified
English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher.
Providence claimed that these children were being adequately served by
general and special teachers because they consulted with ESL teachers as
infrequently as once every two months. This “consultation” model, the ACLU
said, required no additional training for the regular education teachers.
Its approval by RIDE is the basis of the ACLU appeal.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice, which reviewed Providence’s
English learner instruction last year, found that consultation model didn’t
meet federal law.
In an agreement between the Department of Justice and Providence in August,
the school department agreed to stop using that model because it was
“educationally unsound.” The schools also agreed to make sure that future
instruction be provided by teachers trained in English as a Second Language.
But the ACLU said the agreement is only in force for a limited period, and
said it did not include any provisions for compensatory services.
Despite those findings, Wagner last month approved a RIDE hearing officer’s
decision. In an appeal filed this week with the Council on Elementary and
Secondary Education, the ACLU and Legal Services claim that RIDE’s decision
is contrary to state law and regulations, as well as the federal laws the
state regulations are designed to implement.
In his ruling, the RIDE hearing officer called the Justice agreement
irrelevant to interpreting Rhode Island law.
The appeal argues that children with disabilities who are in a
self-contained setting “receive absolutely no direct services from an ESL
teacher, regardless of whether they know any English at all,” while
“general education children within the two lowest levels of English
language proficiency” receive at least some direct ESL teacher instruction
The brief calls on the council, which oversees RIDE, to reverse Wagner’s
ruling, find that Providence’s plan is unlawful, and order compensatory
services to under-served English learners.
Meg Geoghegan, a spokesperson for the education department, said the
settlement with the Department of Justice occurred after the hearing record
was closed, and the hearing officer declined to add that information to the
“It is important to distinguish between the hearing decision — based on the
evidence introduced into the record — and the Department of Justice report,
which was based on extensive Providence site visits and interviews,” she
Rhode Island Legal Services lawyer Veronika Kot said English learners in
Rhode Island “are lagging academically, and national studies find that
Latino children in Rhode Island rank second-to-last in the country on
indicators of likely success, which include academic achievement. It is
critical, therefore, that their rights under both state and federal laws be
energetically enforced by the state agency charged with doing so, so they
can have equal access to education.”
Harold F. Schiffman
Professor Emeritus of
Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305
Phone: (215) 898-7475
Fax: (215) 573-2138
Email: haroldfs at gmail.com
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