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Deadline Nearing for Segregating LA Unified’s English Learners

Vanessa Romo | October 24, 2013

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ELLOver the past week Cynthia Van Houten, principal at Granada Elementary Charter Community, has been scrambling to get students in the right classrooms. Tomorrow is the deadline for principals and teachers throughout LA Unified to comply with a district policy that mandates all English learners be grouped by fluency, above all other criteria.

Van Houten has been doing everything she can to comply with the district’s rules, and come tomorrow morning, all Kindergarten through fifth grade EL students at the school will be pulled out of mainstream classes and sorted by their ability to speak English.

“It’s been hard,” said Van Houten’s administrative assistant.

The policy is not new one. It was established in 2000, but it wasn’t until the district settled a suit with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights last year that LA Unified decided to enforce having segregated classrooms for non-English speakers. The lawsuit accused the district of failing to provide adequate services to EL students.

It’s not clear why district officials set Oct. 25, two months after the start of the school year, as the deadline, but it’s caused quite an uproar across the district as well as protests among teachers and parents, who say it’s too late in the year to reshuffle students.

“We don’t really know, exactly, what kind of disciplinary action they might take against anyone who defies the policy,” Judy Perez, president of Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, the union representing school principals, said in an interview.

Perez says she’s heard from dozens of principals from every region of LA Unified who are debating whether or not to meet the deadline.

There is a wide range of disciplinary actions that the district can take. Among the options: a Letter of Reprimand (a strongly worded letter that’s not officially considered disciplinary action), suspension a without pay or demotion. In an extreme case, a principal can be fired.

“If one of our members is called into a disciplinary conference, it is our role to protect them and make sure they are given their due process rights,” Perez said.

Juan Ramirez, Elementary Vice President for the teachers union, UTLA, said it’s too late for the teachers’ union to intercede on behalf of teachers who are caught in the middle of the shift and might be exposed to disciplinary action.

“If teachers had come to us at the end of last year, or before the beginning of the year, maybe we could have approached the district and tried to ask for an extension,” he said. “But now, there isn’t anything we can really do for them.”

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