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Grossmont district responds to English learner criticism

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A data reporting error led two activist groups to accuse the Grossmont Union High School District of not giving English-language learners the help they need, according to a statement released Thursday.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center sent a letter to state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and the state Board of Education, threatening to sue unless English-language classes were provided to non-native speakers in the Grossmont district, in the Los Angeles Unified School District and other districts in compliance with state and federal law.

"Each additional day an EL child goes without language instructional services is another day that child is effectively foreclosed from a meaningful education," said Jessica Price, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California.

"The children who are neglected today, in schools with no EL services, become the long-term English learners of tomorrow, sometimes struggling their entire school careers without anyone stepping in to make sure they have the tools to learn," she said.

But the Grossmont Union High School District refuted that idea, saying district data made it look like 1,300 English-learning students were not getting the help they needed.

"This is false and reflects a data reporting problem," according to a district statement. "GUHSD will work with the California Department of Education to better align our data to CDE's classifications.

"The Grossmont Union High School District serves more than 3,300 English Learner students. The 1,300 English Learner students in question are in fact proficient enough to be enrolled in mainstream English classes and receive extra support."

The ACLU of Southern California and APALC issued a report on what they said was inaction on the part of state educators. The state Department of Education, however, insisted that nearly every student requiring EL services is being taken care of.

"Despite the enormous financial strains of recent years, California has made dramatic progress in seeing that all English learners receive appropriate instruction and services," said Karen Cadiero-Kaplan, director of the CDE's English Learner Support Division.

"School districts -- which are responsible for providing instruction to students and appropriate services to English learners -- currently report that more than 98 percent of the state's 1.4 million English learners are receiving services," she said.

According to the ACLU/APALC report, 4,000 of LAUSD's almost 195,000 EL students receive no English-language instruction, while Compton Unified provides no services to nearly 1,700 of its EL students.

The lack of instruction violates legal mandates, according to the report. Additionally, studies show that EL students who are denied language classes are more likely to fail or drop out of school, the organizations said.

"Affording no services whatsoever to these children ghettoizes them, imprisoning their hearts and minds by cutting them off from the essential tool of communication necessary to read, speak and learn in all our schools and communities," said Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel of the ACLU/SC.

The organizations requested a formal response from Torlakson and the Board of Education within 30 days.

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