U.S. DOJ, U.S. Attorney offices reach settlement with Providence schools to ensure opportunities for ESL students

PROVIDENCE – A settlement was reached Monday between the U.S. Attorney’s Rhode Island District office, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the Providence Public School District, in which the school district will provide English-language services to the city’s approximately 8,000 students who lack fluency in English.

The agreement was reached after a federal investigation of the district was conducted. According to the 22-page agreement, investigators on March 8, 2018, found 12 conditions showing that Providence Public Schools violated the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974.

Among them were the district placed hundreds of English-learner students in schools that “lacked” English-learner services “without obtaining the parents’ voluntary and informed waivers of those services;” failing to implement several of its English-learner programs; failing to staff such programs with “enough qualified teachers” and “adequately train” principals; lacking “sufficient materials” to implement such programs; and other conditions.

Per the agreement according to a press release, Providence Public Schools must “properly identify and place” English-learner students when they enroll in Providence’s 41 schools and communicate with parents “in a language they can understand” about program offerings and information and provide “adequate” services to all English-learner students for them to become proficient in English and “access grade-level core content instruction.” The district must also ensure appropriate services are available for English-learner students with disabilities; secure “a sufficient number” of ESL-certified teachers, and train administrators and teachers who implement such programs; and monitor the programs’ effectiveness “over time.”

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“As a result of this settlement agreement, English Learner students will now receive all of the services they are legally entitled to and deserve,” said Stephen G. Dambruch, U.S. Attorney for the District of Rhode Island, in a statement Monday.

In a statement Monday U.S. Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore commended the school district for cooperating throughout the investigation. He also noted Providence Superintendent of Schools Christopher N. Maher for “his commitment to helping English Learner students succeed and thrive in school.”

James Bessette is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Research@PBN.com.