Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/0810discriminate10.html

A push for Latino learning
The Arizona Republic
Aug. 10, 2003
Hispanic parents file civil rights  complaints when their  children's test scores fall short

by Kristen Go

Hispanic parents in the Valley are turning to federal civil rights laws to get services they feel their children need to learn at the same level as English-speaking students.

The parents want school districts to provide lessons and programs that help their children excel in reading, writing, math and science, even if that means teaching students in Spanish. At the same time, Arizona education officials are ordering school districts to stop offering these very services.

Across the Valley, race-based complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights comprise one of every three complaints against Arizona school districts, double the amount from 1997. Five years ago, six complaints involved race. Last year, the number was 17.

"I want our kids to get good grades. Every child shouldn't fall below standards," said Javier Cano of north Phoenix, a parent who has struggled to see progress in his child's studies at Palomino Elementary School in the Paradise Valley School District.

School districts know there's a problem in bringing up the test scores of Spanish-speaking students, and the Paradise Valley district isn't an
exception. The district isn't above the law, but it, like other districts, is trying to come up with solutions to prevent more Hispanic kids from
falling behind.

"If there was a magic bullet to fix this, I'd use it," said Sue Skidmore, a member of Paradise Valley's School Board.

But Cano and other parents believe that if school districts don't find answers soon, more school districts may face civil rights

In the Phoenix area, Paradise Valley has the most complaints of any district and provides a microcosm of how this new legal strategy is unfolding.

Lagging test scores

For parents in Paradise Valley, the strategy of going to the federal government came after trying to talk to teachers, principals and board
members about the lagging test scores of Hispanic students.

The parents have enlisted the help of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a civil rights group. The league has the experience
of filing federal complaints, the money to wage legal battles and a history of being successful.

LULAC encourages people to deal with issues at the local level, but when that doesn't work, it recommends using civil rights laws that
guarantee equal access to government services.

The league been successful in getting the Office of Civil Rights to intervene, which is why the group advocates taking some cases to the
federal level, said Dave Rodriguez, national vice president of LULAC's far Western region.

For four years, Jose Luis Rodriguez, a counselor at Greenway Middle School, went to the Paradise Valley School Board and asked the district to address the lagging test scores of Hispanics. Rodriguez was initially hired by the district to oversee programs for students learning English. He tracked the progress of these students and was outraged that students weren't learning more.

Rodriguez believed he was in a position to speak up for parents, including many who didn't speak English, and provide proof of the
students' lack of progress.

In 2000, Rodriguez filed a complaint with the Arizona Department of Education and the federal Office of Civil Rights. He showed that
Hispanic students frequently stayed in programs designed to teach them English for several years and scored at least 35 points below
their peers in reading, writing and math portions of the Stanford 9 test.

His complaint led to federal monitoring. The district also agreed to hire more bilingual teachers.

Progress slow

But since monitoring began, progress in bringing up Hispanic student achievement has been slow.

Palomino Elementary School has the highest Hispanic population in the Paradise Valley district and this year was labeled "underperforming," meaning that students weren't making enough progress on standardized tests.

There still are bitter feelings in the community over former Superintendent Tom Krebs' decision last year to change requirements for the dual-language program at Palomino.

Krebs took responsibility for the change, but some believe that then-School Board member Tom Horne, now the state superintendent of public instruction, was responsible for the decision because Horne ran for the state's highest education job on a platform of eliminating
bilingual education.
Horne denied the accusations. He has stuck to his campaign promises of eliminating programs where students learn in Spanish or with Spanish textbooks. There are exceptions for students with "good" English skills, but it's still unclear what determines "good."

Cano, who has one child at Palomino, became concerned because he saw his daughter struggling with her schoolwork. He talked to his
daughter's teacher about what could be done to help. But after the school's "underperforming" label came out, he began to wonder if the
problem extended beyond his daughter.

"I'm really serious right now about No Child Left Behind," Cano said. He's part of a group of parents that helped LULAC file a complaint
against the district in April.

The complaint is still under investigation, but the league believes that the federal government will rule in its favor as it did in 2000 with
Rodriguez's complaint.

If the district is out of compliance with civil rights laws, it could mean ederal monitoring and, in some cases, loss of federal funding. In
2002, the district was warned it could lose $3.6 million in federal unding for not complying with special-education requirements for
students who are learning English. The district has not lost its funding.

Pushing the envelope

As districts struggle to find solutions to bring up the achievement of  Hispanic students in the classroom and on standardized tests, the
push from LULAC will continue, promises Silverio Garcia, who heads up the league's state committee on education.

He is not only working with parents in the Paradise Valley district but has also helped parents file federal complaints against Buckeye and
Littleton elementary school districts in the West Valley.

He also is trying to empower parents by creating LULAC councils in three other Valley school districts: Isaac, Roosevelt and Wilson in

Garcia said parents' concerns in those districts are the same: They want districts to provide the programs and lessons to bring up their
children's test scores.

"We're going to push the envelope until there is no envelope," Garcia said. "Publicly elected officials need to do their job or resign."