A.G. Schneiderman Ensures Equal Education Opportunities at 7 L.I. Schools

January 15, 2015
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A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN SECURES AGREEMENTS WITH SEVEN SCHOOL DISTRICTS TO ENSURE EQUAL EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNUNITY FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS
Agreements Help Ensure That All Students Are Provided Educational Access Regardless Of Language Ability
Schneiderman: All Students Across New York State Deserve Equal Access To Educational Opportunity
NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced agreements with seven school districts in Suffolk and Westchester Counties to expand educational access for limited English proficient students (“English language learners” or “ELLs”). In Suffolk County, the 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 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. In Westchester County, the Mount Vernon City School District agreed to similar and additional steps concerning ELLs.
“Our schools must provide students with the tools and resources to succeed regardless of English proficiency or where they came from,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “My office is proud to work collaboratively with school districts to ensure that language barriers will not stand in the way of students obtaining a quality education, and that students and their families understand the services that are available to them.”
According to Census data, approximately two and a half million New Yorkers do not speak English as their primary language and have a limited ability to read, speak, write or understand English. Over 17% of Suffolk County residents speak a language other than English; over 8% speak Spanish; and over 6% 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.
In February 2014, in response to information received from parents and advocates concerning Suffolk County schools, the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau opened an inquiry to examine districts’ language access policies and procedures. These districts all serve significant ELL populations, ranging anywhere from 12 to 16% of their student bodies.
Following the Attorney General’s review of the districts’ existing policies and procedures, the six 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.
In May 2014, the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau received a complaint concerning delays by the Mount Vernon City School District in the language assessment and provision of ELL services to two students in the District. Mount Vernon is a linguistically diverse district, with ELLs constituting approximately 35% of the student body. The investigation by the Civil Rights Bureau revealed that District language access and recordkeeping policies were insufficiently detailed to ensure the timely provision of ELL services, resulting in a delay in providing such services to the two students for almost a full academic year. In addition to the forms of relief described above, the Mount Vernon CSD also agreed to:
  • Provide an informational program at least twice each academic year, for the next three years, explaining the Language Access Procedures to ELLs, their families, and the larger community;
  • Develop and adopt a complaint procedure to track all future complaints concerning language access issues in the District;
  • Create and maintain a tracking database to chart the progress of, and provision of services to, all students screened by the District for English language proficiency; and
  • Provide detailed regular reporting to the Civil Rights Bureau, for three academic years, concerning the screening, assessment, and provision of services to ELLs, and any complaints regarding the same.
The Attorney General’s language access agreements are part of the office’s ongoing work to promote greater access to educational opportunity for students across New York State. In addition to addressing language barriers faced by students and their parents, the office is also working to address the school to prison pipeline; working to lift enrollment and registration barriers faced by unaccompanied minors and undocumented youth; working to ensure compliance with the anti-bullying mandate of the Dignity for All Students Act; and working to eradicate admissions barriers imposed by colleges and universities based on applicants’ contacts with the criminal justice system.
“Ensuring that students have access to all educational resources is paramount to their academic success and our success as a region,” said County Executive Steve Bellone. “On November 14, 2012, I signed Executive Order 10-2012 directing county agencies and departments to provide language assistance services (translation and interpretation) to people of Limited English Proficiency (LEP).  Each agency provides interpretation services between the agency and an individual in his or her primary language.”
Amol Sinha, director of NYCLU’s Suffolk County chapter, said, “These settlement agreements help create a pathway to opportunity for English language learners in Suffolk County. We commend the Attorney General’s Office for making language access a top civil rights priority.”
Lucia Gomez, executive director of La Fuente, said, “Long Island is home to an increasingly diverse community of families, many of whom are limited English proficient. We have an obligation to make sure that language does not stand as an obstacle to learning opportunities. These agreements help promote diversity in schools and ensure success for all students.”
Luis Valenzuela, executive director of the Long Island Immigrant Alliance, said, “The Alliance applauds the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau for working to address the barriers faced by too many of our limited English proficient communities. We hope that these agreements will be implemented immediately and followed conscientiously and deliberately. Ensuring that our schools meet the needs of all children is critical to the social and economic well-being of our communities.”
Cheryl Keshner, coordinator of the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition, said, “When schools fail to meet the language needs of limited English proficient students and parents who unable to read documents and important materials regarding their education, students are denied meaningful educational opportunity. We thank the Attorney General’s Office for working to lift language barriers across Long Island schools.”
Blanca Villanueva, community organizer for the Alliance for Quality Education, said, “The Alliance for Quality Education applauds Attorney General Schneiderman’s efforts to remove barriers to education for students on Long Island. New York State has a requirement to provide a quality education to all students in New York no matter their primary language and the actions of A.G. Schneiderman is an important step in ensuring that some of Long Island’s student who are in the most need will have better access to a quality public education.”
This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Justin Deabler and Dariely Rodriguez of the Civil Rights Bureau which is led by Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke. The Bureau is part of the Division of Social Justice, which is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Alvin Bragg.
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