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School investigation continues in Chicopee
The Republican

By JEANETTE DeFORGE Staff writer

CHICOPEE - The federal Office of Civil Rights is continuing to investigate the School Department's special education and bilingual programs to ensure children are receiving services they need.

School officials turned over boxes of records to the federal government for review this summer. Federal auditors are scheduled to visit Thursday to examine the schools, said Superintendent Basan N. Nembirkow.

"It is a compliance review. It has to do with special education," said Susan M. Aspey, deputy press secretary for the Office of Civil Rights.

It is unusual for a school department to be investigated by the office without a formal complaint. In earlier interviews, federal officials refused to say what attracted the attention of investigators.

Aspey would not comment further. She said her office does not discuss ongoing investigations. But Nembirkow said officials are questioning whether the city provided adequate services for bilingual and disabled students in 2001 and 2002.

If violations are found, a deadline will be set to fix the problems.

The School Department has already hired a minimum of four additional bilingual teachers as a "pre-emptive strike," Nembirkow said. It has also shuffled staff so the clerk at the Chapin Alternative Program, formerly Horizon Academy, is bilingual. The principal of the program also speaks Spanish and English, he said.

This is not the first time Chicopee's bilingual and special education programs have been cited by independent investigators. In a routine audit last spring, state examiners found many problems with the two programs.

Auditors listed dozens of violations in a 120-page report. They found some students received improper services, and some received none. Some children were not tested and others were evaluated long after state deadlines passed.

The report also said there were too few bilingual teachers for students who spoke limited English, too few translators and those translators hired speak only Russian or Spanish, although many parents speak other languages, such as Polish.

It also cited poor record-keeping procedures. Many records were late, some were incomplete and many were missing.