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Mass. work to resolve English learner violations

By Rodrique Ngowi
Associated Press / September 27, 2011

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BOSTON—The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education took a key step Tuesday toward resolving federal civil rights violations stemming from its failure to provide enough trained teachers for students with limited English skills, a move expected to benefit nearly 68,000 students in public schools who have not mastered the language, the U.S. Department of Justice announced.

The board voted to grant Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell Chester authority to draft regulations that will require training of all "sheltered English immersion" teachers. Those educators are certified as teachers of English as A Second Language and typically use curricula and methodologies specifically designed to promote English skills among students with a limited grasp of the language by helping them to speak, read and write fluently.

The education board has instructed the state education chief to present proposed regulations by February. The rules will define the preparation and training teachers must have in order to instruct students who are limited in English. Chester is also required to submit a plan for implementing the new regulations.

The timeline adopted by the board anticipates that the regulations drafted by the commissioner will be published for public comment in March, provided they have received board approval. Officials expect a final board review of the regulations in or about June.

The decision comes two months after the U.S. Department of Justice notified state education officials that Massachusetts violated the federal Equal Education Opportunities Act by not making such training mandatory.

The finding stems stemmed in part from the joint investigation conducted by the U.S. Justice Department and the Education Department that found Boston public schools failed to provide English instruction to students with limited grasp of the language.

"We applaud the proactive efforts of the Commissioner of Education and the board to enact a regulation to ensure that teachers are adequately prepared to teach" students with a limited grasp of English "the academic subjects they need to be successful," Assistant U.S. Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas Pere said. "We stand ready to assist the commissioner in this effort, and know that teachers and school districts are eager for Massachusetts to exert leadership in this area as well."