Seven school districts, including six in Suffolk County and one in Westchester County have reached agreements with New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to expand educational access for limited English proficient students.
Riverhead Central School District, the Patchogue-Medford School District, and the Amityville, Greenport, East Hampton, and Hampton Bays Union Free School Districts agreed to develop and implement new policies and procedures concerning English language learners (ELLs) and their families, beginning with those families’ first interactions with school districts and continuing through those students’ educational careers. These districts have also agreed to implement new training protocols for their staff and personnel.
The Mount Vernon City School District in Westchester County agreed to similar steps concerning ELLs.
These districts all serve significant ELL populations, ranging anywhere from 12 percent to 16 percent of their student bodies.
The Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau opened an inquiry to examine districts’ language access policies and procedures in February 2014. According to Assistant Attorney General Justin Deabler in a phone call with advocates on Friday, the action was in direct response to “citizenship enforcement.” Numerous parents and advocates provided information to the Attorney General concerning the schools’ lack of compliance with Commissioner’s Regulations Part 154, which establishes required program services for educating ELLs in New York State public schools.
Deabler said the schools followed a model policy provided by the Attorney General’s office, which itself was aligned to Part 154.
Over 17 percent of Suffolk County residents speak a language other than English, according to Census data. More than 8 percent speak Spanish as a primary language, while just over 6 percent speak English less than “very well.” The evolving demographics of student populations in New York State have caused many ELLs to face language barriers in accessing school services, including not receiving timely screenings or appropriate English-language development services.
Following the Attorney General’s review of the districts’ existing policies and procedures, the districts agreed to expand language access for students and parents through the adoption of model Language Access and Enrollment Procedures for use within the districts. The agreements secured by the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau will ensure that districts meet the needs of students and parents, regardless of language ability by requiring the following:
- Students are properly screened for language ability when entering the districts;
- Parental notifications are provided in the family’s native language on a host of subjects, including student placement in a bilingual/ESL program or evaluation for special education services, or a district’s intent to discipline a student;
- Parents are offered interpreting services at various school functions, including district orientations on bilingual/ESL programs and Committee on Special Education meetings;
- Districts have translated materials available on their websites, as well as clear designations of district Language Access Coordinators along with contact information for those Coordinators;
- ELLs and their families do not face enrollment barriers in the form of document requirements beyond those set forth by the New York State Education Department;
- District personnel are trained on the Language Access and Enrollment Procedures; and
- Periodic reports to the Attorney General regarding the districts’ provision of services to ELLs and their families.