Bilingual program left in limbo
By Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, July 2004) The Cleveland Municipal School District’s Bilingual Education program was left in limbo at the close of the June 15 , 2004 Cleveland School Board Meeting at the Board Administration Building in downtown Cleveland. The program was especially hard hit by the proposed layoffs which are part of the CMSD’s plan to deal with a looming $100 million budget deficit.

The administration promised the board that it would get back to the board by the end of the week to let the board know if the proposed cuts to the bilingual program violated any State and Federal guidelines on the civil rights of bilingual students. The administration said that if such violations of guidelines were found, the administration would try to work with the Cleveland Teachers Union to find ways to reconcile those violations with parallel contract obligations with the union that call for layoffs by seniority. Due to vacations at the board office and the administration, the Plain Press was unable to obtain information as to how the administration advised the board on possible violations of state and federal guidelines.

A week earlier at the June 8 th Board of Education meeting at Garrett Morgan School of Science, many members of Cleveland ’s Hispanic Community, including parents, students and educators, testified to the importance of the bilingual education program.

School Board member Magda Gomez that she and fellow School Board member Gladys Santiago attended a town hall meeting on June 1 st at the Spanish American Committee where they listened to the community’s concerns about how cuts in the district’s teaching staff would impact the bilingual education program. (Over 120 people attended the Town Hall meeting). Noting the increase in student teacher ratios that will result from the cuts, Gomez said, “We cannot ignore its impact on bilingual students.” of Gomez called on the board to “find a way to lessen the impact cuts will have” on students in the bilingual program.

A representative of an employee coalition of counselors and school psychologists noted that the first round of cuts included a Hispanic who was the district’s only bilingual school psychologist.

Cleveland Municipal School District CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said the district’s strategic plan addressed the needs of second language learners, and she realized that people are needed to make the document come alive. She spoke then of the district’s legal obligations to students and said that the district “does not intend for any reductions to violate the law.” She said that the layoffs must comply with the labor contract, but also noted that the layoffs were not written in stone.

A parent complained that bilingual students have been denied the opportunity to participate in special magnet schools in the past because of lack of bilingual services. He complained of the amount of bilingual instructional aids and teachers being laid off.

In response, CEO Byrd Bennett said the over the past five years Ester Johnson has expanded the bilingual program. A dual language program was created at Buhrer Elementary School , and a bilingual multicultural center is now in the community. She said, “These budget cuts must comply with the Cleveland Teachers Union Contract. However, we will not be in violation of any law or of Ohio Civil Rights Commission rulings. If an individual receives layoff notices, that does not mean they will not be back next year. We will look at our children’s needs to see how we staff,” said Byrd Bennett.

A number of parents from Buhrer Elementary School petitioned on behalf of a teacher in the dual language program who received a layoff notice. Several community members noted that a number of bilingual teaching aides gave up their seniority when they were asked to take a special course to become teachers of English as a second language. The courses paid for with tax dollars cost over $5,000 per teacher. Because of seniority rules these teachers are now being laid off.

A parent, with four children in the Cleveland schools, works with families from Central, South America and the Caribbean . She said, “Most (Hispanics) have kids in the bilingual program and depend on it.” The parent asked the board how they can justify cuts that result in layoffs of nearly half the bilingual program staff.

Several students spoke of the importance of the bilingual education program. One student said, “All students have the right to receive instruction in their native language. We are demanding that all bilingual teachers and tutors be restored.” A student with three years in the bilingual program said, “During these three years the bilingual program has helped me learn my own language and helped me learn English. Who will help me and my classmates in years to come? I do not wish to be left behind. We need equality in our bilingual teachers.

A Luis Moran Middle School student, who receives services from both the bilingual education and special education department, asked the board, “Why are you eliminating bilingual and special education services to students? How do you think we are going to be productive citizens if we don’t receive adequate services to support our needs?”

In other matters at the June 8 th board meeting, the administration found an additional $1 million in administrative cuts to meet the board’s wishes to restore summer school for seniors that need only a few credits to graduate and for students that need help to pass the 10 th grade proficiency test. Other services restored included the All City Arts program and Cleveland Scholarship Program. Supplemental pay to teachers was also restored enabling high schools to provide one major sport per season and a number of other extra curricular activities.

The administration advised the board to end the board’s relationship with the Phoenix Program. CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett acknowledged the success of the program in helping students with special needs whom had not been successful in a traditional school. However, she said the Cleveland Teacher’s Union had challenged subcontracting with the Phoenix program as a violation of their contract. Byrd Bennett said the $60,000 to $100,000 in legal fees to fight the unfair labor practices suit would cost more than the district could bear at this time. She recommended that the Board of Education instead make plans to accommodate these students at the district’s two schools for students that have trouble in traditional settings, Halle and Jesse Owens. The board complied with the CEO’s request.

The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for August 24 th.


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