Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/0913discriminate13.html

Allegations of district bias probed

PV schools accused of treating non-English speakers poorly

The Arizona Republic
Sept. 13, 2003

Kristen Go

The federal government is investigating the Paradise Valley Unified School District over allegations of discriminating against parents who do not speak English and treating Hispanics differently at school board meetings.

The U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights began the investigation after receiving complaints from Hispanic community members.


Related link:
12 News video: Hispanics charge bias, file civil rights complaints in Paradise Valley schools

"These parents have basically been segregated by the school district," said Silverio Garcia, a leader of the Arizona branch of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a civil rights group.

The federal investigation could affect how Paradise Valley and other Arizona school districts deal with parents who do not speak English.

In 2001, a complaint against Tucson Unified School District alleged that the district did not provide adequate translation for parents.

Last year, the federal government began monitoring Tucson schools and requiring district translations of documents ranging from report cards to class schedules.

Tucson schools now must provide competent interpreters.

Paradise Valley school officials said they believe they do a good job of helping non-English speaking parents by providing translators and translating school documents in multiple languages.

Over the past decade, more federal civil rights complaints have been filed against Paradise Valley than any other Valley school district.

The Paradise Valley district is subject to federal monitoring because of a complaint filed in 2000 by Jose Luis Rodriguez, a guidance counselor at Greenway Middle School, and the Arizona Hispanic Community Forum.

That complaint alleged that on the Stanford 9 achievement test, Hispanic students scored at least 35 points below their peers in reading, writing and math.

In more recent complaints, Rodriguez maintains that all Spanish-speaking parents still do not receive report cards in Spanish, and that translators don't always provide accurate information.

Javier Cano, parent of a student at Palomino Elementary School, said that when he goes to the district office, he often cannot find information in Spanish.

Days before school began last year, former Superintendent Tom Krebs decided to change requirements for a dual language program at Palomino. Hispanic parents were outraged.

Parents in the area have since joined forces with the League of United Latin American Citizens.

District spokeswoman Judy DeWalt said the need for translations has grown as the district's Hispanic population grows. The district has responded by offering translations in 10 languages ranging from Spanish to Farsi.

Hundreds of documents have been translated, including immunization letters, information about book fairs and parent-teacher conference reminders.

Two Spanish translators attend board meetings and Spanish speaking parents are given headsets to listen to the translators.

"The complaints are not only false, they're outrageously false," said Tom Horne, Arizona's superintendent of public instruction. "I have no doubt that (the Office of Civil Rights) will dismiss them."

Carlin Hertz, a spokesman for the U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights, said, "Just because we have an investigation doesn't mean there is a problem."

However, if a district is violating civil rights laws, districts typically agree to resolve the issues. If districts fail to do so, their federal funding can be cut.

Reach the reporter at kristen.go@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-6864.