So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

Parents protest LA Unified's English learner policy

Annie Gilbertson/KPCC

40 parents gathered in front of school board member Tamar Galatzan's field office in Lake Balboa, demanding Spanish and English speaking children stay in the same classroom.

A group of parents protested outside Los Angeles Unified school board member Tamar Galatzan's office Friday, objecting to the district's policy of putting English-Learners in a specialized class.

"It’s almost like instead of taking a step forward we are taking three steps back, because this is the way it used to be before," said Cindy Aranda-Lechuga, whose child goes to Granada Hills Elementary Community Charter School. She said it reminds her of segregated schools.

She and other parents said they were recently informed by their school that children classified as English Learners must be grouped. They said change would be disruptive now, months into the school year.

L.A. Unified officials said the policy has been in place for years, but some schools had been putting English Learners in mainstream classes. The district is required to give extra help to students who are just learning English.

The U.S. Office of Civil Rights told L.A. Unified it must follow its policies. For elementary school children, that means separate English learner classes for each grade, where they can receive specialized instruction.

The district entered into an agreement with the federal government in 2011 to improve instruction to its 220,000 English learners - and to ensure there are equitable resources in schools with largely black populations.

Hilda Maldonado, with L.A. Unified's multilingual department, said research shows it's better to put English learners in their own class. She said they miss less - and that it's easier on mainstream teachers, who may not speak the child's language.

"Imagine yourself as a teacher trying to teach the concept of citizenship to a student who just arrived to this country, and does not speak English – In English," she said.

Granada Hills parent Patricia Haro isn't convinced.

Though she’s fluent in English, Haro keeps a Spanish-speaking home like the one she grew-up in in Mexico. So now her kindergartner is mostly Spanish speaking. She wants him to be in a traditional classroom with kids who are fluent in English.

"They are like little sponges. They’ll catch up right away," she said. 

Maldonado said parents do have choices. The district offers five types of programs for English learners - which including separate, bilingual and mainstream classrooms.

But the Granada Hills parents said the first they heard of those choices was during a meeting with district officials after their protest Friday morning.

Under Gov. Jerry Brown's new Local Control Funding law, districts will get extra money to help disadvantaged children - including English Learners.

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