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posted: 5/16/2012 10:05 PM

Parent of U-46 students testifies in bias case

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One of the plaintiffs in a federal racial bias lawsuit against Elgin Area School District U-46 says the district failed to adequately communicate the availability of programs for gifted children and that students were forced to take classes in small mobile classrooms.

But a one-time interim superintendent testified Wednesday during the continuation of the trial that the district had increased its recruitment of minority students for the gifted programs and that mobile classrooms do not harm a student's education.

Tracy McFadden's children -- Daniel, Deanna and Dinah -- are members of the class action lawsuit representing minority students in the district who say boundary changes in 2004-2005 forced black and Hispanic students to attend older, more crowded schools than their white counterparts. In addition, the suit alleges the district failed to provide minority students access to gifted programs.

Attorneys for the school district tried to block McFadden's testimony as she had been unavailable on numerous occasions, including several days during the time attorneys for the families were presenting their case. The judge, however, allowed McFadden to testify.

McFadden said boundary changes resulted in the closing of Illinois Park Elementary School.

"I was shocked and surprised," McFadden said of learning that Illinois Park would close. "Because the school had been rebuilt, and it was a new school."

When two of her children, Daniel and Dinah, reached the fifth grade, their classes were held in mobile classrooms, which McFadden said were overcrowded and dangerous.

"They were too small to hold a classroom," McFadden said. "(Students) would have to go out of the mobile by themselves to get to the main building."

McFadden also said she did not find out about gifted programs until her eldest daughter -- who graduated U-46 in 2010 -- was in high school.

The courtroom was closed during McFadden's cross examination to protect student records.

But Mary Jayne Broncato, who was U-46 interim superintendent from September 2007 to June 2008, testified that although state funding for gifted programs had dried up, U-46 continued to invest resources in gifted programs and academies.

"The district hired a full-time gifted coordinator, and there was an audit of the academic programs to provide additional supports for programs," Broncato said. "There was a focus on recruiting minority students."

In addition, Broncato said mobiles provided space for schools that needed to reduce class sizes and also made space available for additional programs or services.

"The most important thing is the instruction in the classroom and the teacher in the classroom," Broncato said.

Wilma Valero, the current director of the district's English Language Learners program, also said the district never placed students who were learning English into general education classrooms before they gained language proficiencies outlined by the district and state. Valero said she was unaware of any students being exited from the program based on time.

The trial before federal Judge Robert Gettleman resumes June 12.

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