The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island announced on Monday that they had reached a settlement with the school district of Providence, Rhode Island, to provide English language services to the district’s 8,000 students who are not fluent in English, and to communicate with the parents about school offerings in “a language they understand,” thus providing interpretation services. According to a DOJ press statement, the agreement is based on a federal investigation that came under the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974, which “will ensure that these English Learner students receive the services they need to succeed in the district’s educational programs.”:

The Justice Department declared in its statement, that the Providence school district is now required to properly identify and place students who are not proficient in English upon their enrollment in the district’s 41 schools, and “communicate with parents about program offerings and other essential information in a language they understand.”

The school district is also required to provide English language services to all non-proficient students so that they can access grade-level core content instruction, and to accomodate students with disabilities. Providence will also have to hire enough teachers who are certified as English as a Second Language (ESL) instructors and to monitor the effectiveness of the program.

Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore said the development, “We look forward to working together to implement this promising settlement agreement.”

“As a result of this settlement agreement, English Learner students will now receive all of the services they are legally entitled to and deserve,” said U.S. Attorney Stephen G. Dambruch for the District of Rhode Island. 

Approximately one-third of the 24,000 students in the Providence school system are deficient in English (English-language learners). However, only 20 percent of the teachers are ESL certified. Nearly 60 percent of the students come from homes where English is not the primary language. 

In March, DOJ told Providence that there were at least 12 deficiencies in the school that violate the federal Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 requiring educational agencies to help students overcome language barriers. The school district had placed hundreds of students whose English was deficient in schools that lacked services the students needed without receiving prior approval from their parents, segregated some of the deficient students in a certain program “for an unreasonable amount of time,” among other problems. 

In a statement, Superintendent Christopher Maher admitted that the district must do more to support students whose command of English is poor. He cited lack of sufficient funding as a problem. The state has providing  $2.5 million in each of the last two fiscal years for public schools to provide services to English learners, which is the fastest-growing group among students in Rhode Island. The state had not provided the funding in the past. Providence officials have have included an additional $1.1 million in the current fiscal year’s budget for new personnel and programming directly related to English learners. However, it is unclear how much the Providence school system will have to spend in order to implement its settlement with DOJ. 

The state of Rhode Island has a large community of immigrants, much of which emigrated from the Dominican Republic. More than one in eight Rhode Islanders was born in another country, according to the American Immigration Council, while over 15 percent of residents are native-born Americans who have at least one immigrant parent. More than one in eight Rhode Island residents is an immigrant, while more than one in seven residents is a native-born U.S. citizen with at least one immigrant parent. In 2015, 142,324 immigrants (foreign-born individuals) comprised 13.5 percent of the state’s population.
The top countries of origin for immigrants were the Dominican Republic (17.8 percent of immigrants), Portugal (9.8 percent), Guatemala (9.3 percent), Cabo Verde (7.2 percent), and China (4.9 percent). According to AIP, 77,381 immigrants (54.4 percent) had naturalized as of 2015, and 32,697 immigrants were eligible to become naturalized U.S. citizens in 2015. Nearly three-quarters of immigrants (74.6 percent) reported speaking English “well” or “very well.”

According to the 2010 census, there are 179,000 residents in Providence. It is over 20 square miles in area, and it has a population density of over 9,676 people per square mile. About half of the population of Providence is white, while 16 percent of the population is black. Almost 28 percent is of Hispanic or Latino origin, and over 6 percent is Asian. Approximately 14 percent of the total population is of Italian ancestry. The city also has a large Jewish community that makes up about 5 percent of the population. Median income is $48,000.

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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