NASHUA — After receiving complaints, the Department of Justice has opened a review of the school district’s English Language Learner program, a program aimed to assist students whose primary language is not English.
“We have received reports that the district is failing to take appropriate action by not providing adequate language acquisition services to its English Learner students, or meaningful communications to Limited English Proficiency parents,” wrote Attorney Frances Cohen of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division in a letter to Superintendent Jahmal Mosley.
Cohen said the review will look into the allegations reported, and determine whether the district’s ELL program and practices are meeting its general obligations.
The Board of Education met earlier this month in a non-public session to discuss the review from the DOJ, which is taking place in partnership with the U.S. Attorneys Office for the District of New Hampshire.
Heather Raymond, president of the Board of Education, said Tuesday that officials will provide the agencies with whatever data they are requesting, including 20 specific items of documentation.
“I think it is good to have attention brought to the needs of our ELL students. Nashua is changing. We have students with increasing needs,” said Raymond, adding those concerns must be addressed.
Mosley agreed, saying these Nashua students have been deprived of an adequate education under previous leadership and previous budget cuts.
“I am glad I am here to put a stop to it,” he said, explaining the concerns from the DOJ reinforce several items included in the district’s new strategic plan, which calls for the hiring of additional ELL teachers.
There are currently 1,346 ELL students in the district. At Nashua High School South, 15 additional students registered for ELL services this week, according to Mosley.
“They are a priority, and I am committed to making sure they get the proper support,” he said, adding that ELL students deserve the same attention as every other student in the district.
There are a total of 23.5 ELL teaching positions in Nashua, however four more are in the process of being added after funding was recently approved.
There will be 13 ELL positions held at the elementary level, six at the middle schools and 8.5 at the high schools. An ELL communications specialist has also been hired.
Mosley stressed the importance of building an infrastructure of ELL capital and support for Nashua families that will provide a sustainable process for proper ELL staffing.
“We already started to embark on this matter long before this (DOJ review) even showed up. We were very proactive in doing it,” said Mosley, adding he does not disagree with the concerns. “It speaks to the challenges of public schools. We need more funding. We need more adequate, sustainable funding. This is a long-term community cultural shift that needs to happen in the city.”
According to the DOJ’s letter, the Equal Educational Opportunities Act (EEOA) of 1974 requires state and local educational agencies to take appropriate action to overcome language barriers that impede students’ equal participation in the agencies’ instructional programs.
“We need to be able to get all kids where they need to go — the ELL kids especially,” said Raymond. “We have been working on beefing up our ELL curriculum, especially at the high school level. ELL students have different needs, she said, explaining some students speak English at school and speak another language at home, while others speak no English at all and might be refugees who have never been to school and are unfamiliar with the structured educational process.
“They need assistance with all of these things,” Raymond said.
Following the DOJ’s review, if a violation is found, the district will be provided an opportunity to correct the problem before the DOJ considers any court action.
“We stress that, at this time, no determination has been made regarding any violation of the EEOA,” wrote Cohen.