Bilingual special ed expert decries U-46 ELL program

A bilingual special education specialist retained by plaintiffs in the federal bias lawsuit against Elgin Area School District U-46 described the district's English Language Learners program as inconsistent and inadequate and characterized the district's gifted program for bilingual students as institutional discrimination.

Alba Ortiz, director of bilingual education at the University of Texas at Austin, completed a content analysis of documents regarding the district's ELL program and found “tremendous discrepancies” between what the district formally described and how the ELL program was implemented.

But attorneys for the defense were quick to discredit Ortiz's findings, claiming some key reports from the Illinois State Board of Education and the Office of Civil Rights were not included in Ortiz's report completed in 2008.

Ortiz testified during the third day of the trial that the district's ELL curriculum and program was designed for a late-exit transitional bilingual education model where students receive instruction in core areas like math and reading in their native language. However, Ortiz said, there was a clear goal to teach English as soon as possible.

Testimony from a former ELL director and a longtime teacher describing the mandatory exit for students who had been in the program more than three years, as well as a memo from former Superintendent Connie Neale stating she wanted students out as quickly as possible, supported her findings, Ortiz said.

Furthermore, Ortiz told the court the district's Spanish English Transitional School Within a School, also known as a bilingual gifted program, unnecessarily separated bilingual and English-speaking peers.

“It is institutional discrimination,” Ortiz said. “They are deemed English-proficient, so why segregate them from their native English-language peers?

But during cross-examination, John Borkowski, an attorney for the school district, pointed out that Ortiz did not interview students, parents or teachers despite access through plaintiff's counsel and that reports from the ISBE accepting corrective action regarding the ELL program were not included. A monitoring report from the Office of Civil Rights also found the district in compliance, Borkowski said.

“You only mention the ISBE report when the district is out of compliance,” Borkowski said, noting the ISBE found the district in compliance in about 50 areas.

While the plaintiffs argue some students did not have access to ELL programs at the high school level, the ISBE found that the program was available at two high schools but all eligible students could attend.

Ortiz said not all of the documents were made available to her.

Also on Wednesday, two former Elgin Area School District U-46 board members testified decisions regarding the district's English Language Learners program and gifted programs were delegated to the administration and former Superintendent Connie Neale.

Karen Carney, who spent two decades on the board until this year, and Ken Kaczynski, a 10-year board member and former board president, both testified that they had no knowledge of a district policy to remove students from the district's ELL program based solely on time or that there were concerns about underrepresentation of minority students in the district's gifted programs.

The suit, filed by several families in 2005, claims the district discriminated against black and Hispanic students by sending them to inferior schools, denying access to gifted programs and failing to provide adequate bilingual services after new boundaries were approved.

Former U-46 superintendent Neale testifies in bias case

U-46 lawyers fire back at claims of segregation

Karen Carney
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