The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education has agreed to identify and develop programs to help English learner students who have language barriers in school, as part of a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.
The settlement culminates a DOJ Civil Rights Division investigation since September 2017, which concluded that the school district’s program does not comply with the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974. The district is required to take “appropriate action to overcome language barriers that impede equal participation by its students” under the EEOA.
A key measure the school promise to adopt is to ensure these English learner students receive at least 225 minutes of in-person instructions per week by an instructor certified in teaching English as a second language. The district will also need to maintain adequate and well-trained staff to carry out the program, enhance communications with parents with limited English proficiency. It will also provide English learner students with more resources to succeed in subjects including math, science and social studies.
The school district will have to monitor and evaluate its programs and report the results to DOJ.
“The Justice Department recognizes that today’s English learner students are tomorrow’s bilingual graduates,” said the DOJ Civil Rights Division’s Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke in a statement Thursday. “These students will bring essential and diverse language skills into our workforce and communities.”
The Rowan-Salisbury School District consists of 34 schools, with over 18,000 students in the 2019-2020 school year, data from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction show. 2.9% of the students enrolled in public schools speak English less than well, according to the American Community Survey 2014-2018 data. In 2018-2019 school year, the district reported 34.7% of the English learner students meeting state’s definition of progress toward English language attainment in proficiency tests, lower than the state average of 38.6%, data from the North Carolina School Report Cards show.
The DOJ also entered similar settlements with several school districts in other states, including Arizona, Maine and New Hampshire this year after investigations found them in violation of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act.
Notably, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, who used to head the DOJ Civil Rights Division in the Obama administration, led an effort to issue guidelines for school districts to comply with the EEOA.
“English Learner students exhibit a deep desire to learn and engage in their classrooms, yet often face multiple barriers in their quest to do so,” Gupta said in a DOJ news release in 2015. “English Learner students and Limited English Proficient parents must be given the supports necessary to communicate and understand what is happening in their schools and to participate equally in the educational process.”