Civil rights explained to parents
The Arizona Republic
May. 7, 2003 12:00 AM
Betty Reid

Delfina Lara was one of 20 parents Thursday who attended a meeting with a federal Civil Rights Office official to learn more about their rights as
parents of children in public schools.

M. Arnold Chavez, team leader of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, met with Roosevelt Elementary School District parents as part of a tour to Valley schools to educate parents, especially minority parents, about their rights in terms of public schools.

Chavez explained federal laws pertaining to education policies as well as the No Child Left Behind program - a federal mandate that seeks to stiffen
public schools' accountability for educating children.

But parents kept trying to steer Chavez from the broad discussion of their parental rights to discuss what they saw as specific deficiencies in their
local schools.

For instance, Lara wanted to know why Roosevelt District educators didn't have a plan to detect learning barriers not only earlier in a child's
education, but earlier in the school year. Lara claimed such detection is frequently not made until fourth grade, which, she said, is a little too

"Why aren't principals being evaluated in regards to students with special needs?" Lara asked. "Are principals hiring teachers to recognize these

Chavez told Lara and other parents he is unable to address those issues. That's not his job. His office investigates discrimination complaints, many
of which do come from public schools, especially cases involving disabled children. He said few of the OCR complaints are over language disputes.

A majority of the children at Roosevelt's 20 campuses speak Spanish. While quick English immersion is the law in Arizona, many times classroom
instructors resort to English-to-Spanish translation to help students understand, according to Roosevelt Superintendent Frederick Warren.

Chavez also said that if a school district fails to communicate important information, such as a schedule for a parent teacher conference or the date
of school registration, in Spanish, it should be reported to OCR. He noted Valley school districts are required to help with translations.

Parent Olga L. Rodriguez asked Chavez when translation requests are appropriate. Chavez said if it involves a parent's child, it's always a good
idea to request the translation, but to be reasonable.