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updated: 5/15/2012 10:19 PM

Conflicting testimony in U-46 bias trial

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A recent graduate of Elgin Area School District U-46 and two current administrators in the district on Tuesday said students and teachers were given the supports they needed to succeed, bolstering the school district's defense in the continuation of the federal racial bias trial against the district.

In 2005, several families sued the school district claiming boundary changes made during the 2004-2005 school year discriminated against black and Hispanic students by sending them to older, more crowded schools than their white counterparts.

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Carmen Rodriguez, a former assistant director of bilingual programs, and Lois Sands, principal at McKinley Elementary School in Elgin, gave testimony that conflicted with statements the former director of the bilingual program, Dionnes Rivera, made last October. Rivera claimed that students in the English Language Learners Program were automatically transferred to the general education population after five years, regardless of their English language proficiencies, and that bilingual teachers did not receive any professional development.

Rodriguez, now assistant superintendent of elementary schools, said students were never taken out of the program based on time and that she was unaware of a 2005 document from then-Superintendent Connie Neale, that mandated the five-year rule.

"Not according to the exit criteria I was given," said Rodriguez, who was principal at Ontarioville Elementary School in the 2005-2006 school year.

Sands, a certified bilingual teacher who has worked in the district for 37 years, added that teachers regularly collaborated to discuss data and new ideas, while principals worked with teachers to track student progress, test scores and curriculum plans.

Furthermore, Liliana Bonilla, a 2011 graduate of Elgin High School's gifted and talented academy, said the district's gifted program for former English language learners in the elementary grades -- known as the Spanish English Transition School Within A School -- prepared her for rigorous coursework at the middle and high school levels.

"It benefitted me greatly having that support system," said Liliana, currently a freshman at Northwestern University who is on the pre-medicine track. "I don't see anything wrong with it."

Bilingual experts for the plaintiffs have testified that the separation of gifted programs for English speaking students and former language learners is a form of discrimination and prevents students who are acquiring English language skills from integrating with their English speaking peers.

But both Rodriguez and Sands on Tuesday reiterated previous testimony that gifted students in the bilingual gifted program are integrated with their English speaking peers for art, music and physical education, as well as at lunch, on field trips and during assemblies.

The trial continues Wednesday.

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