Nashua signs agreement with civil rights officials to address shortcomings in English language instruction

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May 25—CONCORD — Nashua schools will have to hire English-as-a-second-language teachers, train existing teachers about non-English-speaking students and translate materials for non-English-speaking parents under a wide-ranging agreement signed Monday between the city school district and federal civil rights officials.

The agreement, announced Tuesday by the U.S. Attorney for New Hampshire, resolves an investigation launched in 2019 into inadequacies in instruction for English-learner students in the state's second-largest city. The investigation dealt with violations of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974.

"School districts must step up and give English learners the language services and supports they are entitled to under federal law," said Pamela S. Karlan, the principal deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights in the U.S. Justice Department.

"This agreement is a reminder that teachers cannot deliver those supports and services without training and resources from their district," she said in a statement.

John Farley, the acting U.S. Attorney in New Hampshire, said the investigation started when his office received information about potential problems with the Nashua English Language Learners (ELL) program.

He said an investigation found that a majority of Nashua ELL students were receiving insufficient services, and some were getting none.

One middle school had three ELL teachers for a student load that included 123 students and another 78 former students that had to be monitored.

Farley would not say whether other New Hampshire school districts are under investigation. This is the first agreement of its type in New Hampshire, he said.

About 1,500 students in Nashua — 14% of the school population — are English language learners.

Garth McKinney, Nashua's interim superintendent, said steps already are underway to address the issues identified in the DOJ investigation.

"We are focused on doing all we can to support students to read, write and speak in English so they can fully participate in their classes," McKinney said in a statement. "Today we are looking to hire more teachers certified to teach English as a second language to alleviate the shortfall in our teaching ranks."

McKinney said professional development and staff meetings for the upcoming school year will focus on the investigation's findings and the importance of following the terms of the settlement.

Immediately after the DOJ began its review, the district hired four new ELL teachers in fall 2019 to bring the number of ELL teachers in the district to 27.5 at the time, he said.

The district also began a partnership with the United Way of Greater Nashua to create an opportunity for some in-person learning for ELL students while most grade levels were learning remotely because of the pandemic.

According to Yeney Naranjo Armenteros, the district's ELL communication coordinator, Nashua schools also are working on a more reliable and consistent interpreting for families who request it it.

In a statement, school board president Heather Raymond said the city and school district "are committed to working together to create more equitable learning opportunities for our community's children."

According to the 19-page settlement agreement, Nashua will:

* Identify English learners and enroll them in appropriate classes;

* Provide English as a second language instruction to all English learner students, including students with disabilities, and ensure the district has enough teachers certified to teach English as a second language;

* Train teachers of academic core subjects such as math, science and social studies on how to help English learner students understand the content in their grade-level courses;

* Train school principals on how to evaluate teachers of English learner students and support effective teaching strategies;

* Communicate essential school-related information in a language that Limited English Proficient parents can understand so their children can access all school programs; and

* Monitor students' progress and evaluate the effectiveness of its English learner programs over time.

The Justice Department will monitor the district's implementation of the settlement for three full school years.

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