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Arlington school system signs agreement to improve support for English learners

A Northern Virginia school system has reached an agreement with the federal government to settle a complaint that alleged the district provided inadequate support for English learners.

The Justice Department announced the accord Monday with Arlington Public Schools, saying the agreement will bolster English language services to roughly 5,000 students in the school system who are not proficient in English.

“Learning English is key to unlocking educational opportunities,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said. “We look forward to continuing to work cooperatively with the Arlington Public Schools to implement this agreement.”

Arlington’s responsibilities under the agreement are laid out in detail over 19 pages and include provisions about identifying and placing English learners in appropriate programs, providing parents who have limited English proficiency access to interpreters and written translations, and ensuring access to instruction for students who need to learn English as a second language.

The agreement specifies that Arlington schools must actively recruit teachers trained in teaching English as a second language for “relevant teaching positions” and directs the school system to provide annual training to principals and administrators who evaluate teachers of English learners.

The Arlington School Board approved the agreement last week, which stemmed from a complaint lodged against Jefferson Middle School in the 2015-2016 school year. Superintendent Patrick K. Murphy said at a School Board meeting Thursday that many of the requirements outlined in the agreement are already in practice at Jefferson and across the school system.

“We are committed to serve English language learners and their families in all of our schools,” Murphy said.

Sam Klein, a supervisor who oversees the school district’s program for English learners and its high intensity language training program, noted that Arlington has educated English learners for more than 50 years and such students in the school system perform above average on state standardized tests.

But he said Arlington chose to enter the agreement because it believes in “continuous improvement” and “can agree that those are things that we can do.”

He highlighted efforts underway to comply with the agreement.

Klein said the school system has begun the process of translating specialized learning plans for students with disabilities into Amharic, Arabic and Mongolian. The school system, he added, has already changed its policies to comply with requirements about the home language survey it uses to identify families who may need language services.

The Justice Department reviewed aspects of Arlington’s program for English learners “that were alleged to be inadequate,” according to the agreement. The federal government found “several compliance issues” with the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974, which prohibits discrimination in schools.

The school system and federal government entered the agreement “to avoid litigation” and for “judicial and governmental economy,” the agreement states. Arlington did not admit any violation of federal law, and the agreement will be in place for three full school years.

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