By BOB OLIVER
HEIGHTS — Crestwood School District officials approved a settlement agreement with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice concerning the education of English Language Learner program students throughout the district.
The settlement resulted from a 2011 complaint against the district by a counselor, who filed a lawsuit claiming that Crestwood’s employment practices and ELL program were discriminatory on the basis of race and national origin.
According to the DOJ, the Civil Rights Division conducted an investigation of the allegations and concluded that the “district failed to provide adequate services and materials for ELL students, employed an insufficient number of qualified teachers and administrators and did not monitor and evaluate its ELL program effectively.”
After concluding the investigation a settlement was created and the Crestwood Board of Education approved it Aug. 11.
The agreement outlines several program changes the district will have to adopt for the upcoming school year, including providing all ELL students with properly qualified teachers, conducting a comprehensive inventory of the instructional materials to ensure that each school has appropriate resources available and monitor the academic progress of current and former ELL students.
The district will also have to work with the DOJ’s Community Relations Service to improve parental outreach and community engagement by establishing a community advisory panel and implementing training on cultural competency.
Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Molly Moran said all students, regardless of their proficiency in English, deserve the opportunity to succeed and thrive in school, and the agreement is designed to ensure that.
“This robust and multifaceted agreement will eliminate barriers that obstruct the path to success for English language learners in the Crestwood schools,” Moran said.
The agreement also requires the district, with the assistance of a qualified consultant, to draft a comprehensive recruitment and hiring policy and implement best practices for recruiting, hiring, and retaining a qualified and diverse faculty and staff.
The district must also hire sufficient interpreters and translators so that all letters, notices, and other documents are available in languages needed for faculty, students and parents.
The agreement will remain in effect for four years.
In a press release discussing the agreement, Crestwood Supt. Laurine Van Valkenburg said the district has consistently denied the allegations of the complaint and has not made any admissions of liability or wrongdoing by entering into the settlement agreement.
“In the spirit of conciliation, however, the district entered into settlement negotiations and finalized the settlement agreement which, in large part, memorializes actions and initiatives the district has already undertaken to improve its ELL program and further diversify its faculty and staff,” VanValkenburg said. “As always, the district is committed to providing the best possible education to all students, to hiring a diverse and qualified staff, and to fostering positive relationships with parents and the community.”
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee Director Fatine Abdrabboh said that the “significance of the comprehensive settlement for our community cannot be overstated.”
She said the ADC looked forward to working closely with the district to ensure the steps outlined by the DOJ are followed to “prevent similar incidents in the future.”
(Bob Oliver can be reached at [email protected])