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L.A. Unified settles federal civil rights probe, agrees to reforms

October 11, 2011 |  3:32 pm

The Los Angeles Unified School District agreed to sweeping revisions in the way it teaches students who are learning English as well as black students, to settle a federal civil rights investigation into whether the district was denying the students a quality education.

The settlement closes what was the Obama administration’s first civil rights investigation launched by the Department of Education, and officials said Tuesday it could serve as a model for other school districts around the country.

“What happens in L.A. really does set trends for across the nation. More and more school districts are dealing with this challenge,” said Russlynn Ali, the assistant secretary of education for civil rights.

The Department of Education launched the probe last year, at first to determine if ESL students, most of whom are Latino, were receiving adequate instruction. The nation’s second-largest school system has more students learning English, about 195,000, than any other in the United States -- about 29% of the district’s overall enrollment. Later, investigators widened the probe to include black students, who make up about 10% of the district’s enrollment.

The settlement does not accuse the district of discriminating against the students. But it requires a top-to-bottom revision of the district’s Master Plan for English Learners. The goal is to let the district develop the details, under continuing oversight from the Department of Education.

Under the settlement, the district for the first time will examine the proficiency of students who are judged to have successfully learned English. Many of these students subsequently flounder academically. The district will also focus more on students who have reached high school without mastering the English skills necessary to enroll in a college-preparatory curriculum.

The district also agreed to provide ESL and black students with better teachers as well as technology and library resources.

Focusing specifically on black students, federal officials are demanding the LAUSD “eliminate the disproportionality in the discipline imposed on African American students” and to “minimize subjectivity” in school discipline, according to the settlement.

“I was aghast at how disproportionately African American students are disciplined in this district,” Ali said.

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--Howard Blume

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