U-46 mobiles were not in bad shape, expert testifies

The mobile classrooms used at schools across Elgin Area School District U-46 in the 2008-2009 school year were in average or good condition compared to those used at other schools around the country, a school facilities expert said during the continuation of a federal bias trial against the district.

Sam Wilson, division vice president of Jacobs Engineering, an architecture and construction firm based in Texas, said Wednesday that none of the district’s 40 mobile buildings needed major repairs or complete replacement.

“A majority of the systems required general maintenance or minor repairs,” Wilson said. “By and large, they were in better condition than others seen in other districts.”

Wilson’s testimony contradicted that of the plaintiff’s facilities expert, Edward Kazanjian, who testified in March 2011 that the mobiles were “not viable and should be eliminated.”

The families who filed the lawsuit against the district in 2005 said the change in boundaries denied black and Hispanic students access to gifted programs and academies, and forced them into older, overcrowded schools that relied on mobile classrooms.

But Wilson asserted Wednesday that mobiles were found across the district, including in areas that did not have a high density of Hispanic students.

“That supports my conclusion that they were using portables at the point of need within the district,” Wilson said.

Wilson added that mobile classrooms are “perfectly viable spaces.”

“Mobile buildings are not inherently bad,” Wilson said. “They are similar buildings to permanent spaces.”

Also on the stand for the school district Wednesday was Beatriz Arias, a bilingual education expert who supported the district’s English Language Learners and bilingual programs. Arias, who is now the associate director at the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, D.C., said her 2004-2005 audit of the district’s bilingual program found that the program was effective and well articulated in terms of explaining expectations for teachers and students alike.

The trial continues Thursday in Chicago. Judge Robert Gettleman is expected to set future dates for rebuttal and closing arguments.

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