Federal official visits to discover if students are learning English
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 11, 2005 12:00 AM

Betty Reid

Roosevelt Elementary School District leaders have confirmed that an official with the Office of Civil Rights-Education Division visited the district in January to find out whether Spanish-speaking students were learning English.

They have said little else about the visit and added only that the visit was based on a complaint filed in 2000 in part by a newly elected Roosevelt board member, Reyna Polanco. Polanco said she no longer is associated with the community group Parents United that filed the complaint and insists that federal office and the district are working together to improve education for all children.

Still, she added that there is always more work to be done with English language learners.

"I'm not going to say I'm very happy, because there's a lot out there," Polanco said. "The English-only law, I understand that is causing some problems. My job is done with the OCR complaint filed in 2000."

School board leaders said they have yet to receive a report about OCR attorney adviser Virginia Wilson-Cobble's recent meeting with Roosevelt educators.

Wilson Cobble could not be reached for a comment. A spokesman for the OCR said the January visit involved a discussion about how Roosevelt plans to install "services necessary" to educate students limited in English.

"I know OCR was on campus," said Betty Thompson, president of the Roosevelt board. "I don't have the results of the report."

The English issue has perplexed the district for years.

Members of Parents United had alleged that Spanish-speaking kids were discriminated against because they were disciplined more severely than others. The group claimed Roosevelt punished kids because they were English language learners.

At least 4,857 students were identified as English learners in January 2003, when Roosevelt's enrollment was approaching 12,000.

The visible changes as a result of the complaint to the OCR include eliminating corporal punishment at schools, offering gifted programs for all students, and communicating with district parents in Spanish and English, Polanco said.

As part of the process, Roosevelt overhauled its programs for students learning English and orchestrated a plan to hire more bilingual educators to help students as a result of the complaint. The number of bilingual teachers added to the Roosevelt teaching staff over three years was not immediately available.

Joe Pena, assistant superintendent for human resources and staff development, could not be reached for a comment.

Academic scores of Roosevelt schools remain low on the Stanford 9 Achievement Test and the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards test, or AIMS. Martha Baca, executive assistant to Roosevelt Superintendent Grace Wright, did not return telephone calls.

Reach the reporter at betty.reid@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8049.