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Central Valley district to alter program for students learning English

August 16, 2012 |  3:51 pm

Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel for the ACLU of Southern California

A Central Valley school district will replace a program that was criticized as ineffective for students learning English, officials announced Thursday.

Dinuba Unified School District, near Fresno, had become the target of litigation filed in May on behalf of two unidentified students, their parents and five teachers.

The program, called Second Language Acquisition Development Instruction, took first-, second- and third-graders out of their regular classes and instead taught them grammar at a level beyond what native English speakers are exposed to at that age, the suit claimed.

The result, advocates said, was that students were missing curriculum they should have been learning while being drilled on material that was not appropriate.

The district, in turn, described its approach as teaching English as though it were "a foreign language" through methods that "help students understand how English is constructed and used."
Under the settlement, the district will replace the program with one recommended by experts approved of by both sides of the litigation.

"People can always fight about philosophy, but we know the real factors in the success of our students are the quality of our teachers and the resources we can devote to them," Dinuba Supt. Joe Hernandez said in a statement. 

He added that it was important to avoid "an expensive fight in the courtroom" in light of state budget cuts. At the same time, the district defended its programs as being responsible for significant academic gains.

Dinuba has about 6,150 students. About 30% are classified as learning English. Those students score lower on state tests, but so do such students in other school systems.

The state had approved Dinuba's approach, according to the suit, which was a main reason the California Department of Education also was sued. The settlement, because it addresses the alleged harm to those who sued, will effectively end the litigation, said Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

"The track record in California is abysmal. You could throw a dart at a map of California and hit a school district that is not getting the job done for English learners. And the position of the state is to sit on the sidelines and issue reports," Rosenbaum said. "That issue is just going to have to wait for another day."

The California Department of Education had no comment but in the past has defended its efforts and called the lawsuit unnecessary.


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Photo: Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel of the ACLU of Southern California, at the May announcement of the lawsuit against the state and the Dinuba Unified School District in the Central Valley. Officials announced Thursday that an English instruction program in the district will be replaced. Credit: Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press