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D-205 board responds to ELL concerns

ELMHURST – The District 205 Board of Education responded this week to concerns parents recently raised about the implementation of English Language Learner classrooms at Conrad Fischer Elementary School, admitting further discussions are needed.

"It certainly wasn't intentional on our part not to be good communicators in this process," Superintendent David Pruneau said during a school board meeting Tuesday night. "We certainly want to hear parent input and community input."

District 205 sent an email in response to these concerns to Fischer families and staff last week. The email explained that the changes to the ELL program are efforts to comply with state regulations. The Illinois Administrative Code, Part 228, Transitional Bilingual Education, requires that public elementary schools with 20 or more students speaking the same native language other than English provide a bilingual teacher.

Conrad Fischer fits this requirement, with more than 20 students having a first language of Spanish.

"It's important to recognize back in 2009 an understanding was clear in the district that the district was out of compliance with ELL regulation partly because of an inaction over a number of years and also due to changes in the law in particular to bilingual education," said Charles Johns, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

Parent Pam Hamil worried the school is losing good teachers to make room for additional bilingual teachers.

"I would just ask that time be taken to really investigate what the best options are that are out there," Hamil said.

Another parent charged that the district implemented ELL programs in an attempt to gain more money through government funding for staff salaries. Pruneau later denied saying, "It was no financial benefit to the school district in offsetting our salary costs."

Johns explained that Title III funds support ELL and English as a Second Language instruction.

"We use those funds for a variety of services, not limited to supplemental programs such as tutorial programs, summer school, additional materials, materials in second languages, also for additional staff," he said.

Parent Servando Cedillo said he believed the ELL classrooms were holding students back from learning English.

"I physically go to the school, and I hear the teachers," said Cedillo. "All they do is speak in Spanish."

Board Secretary Karen Stuefen questioned this later in the meeting. Johns said largely Spanish is being spoken in ELL classes.

Johns also expressed that there is a visible trend that students are getting by with social language at young ages and falling behind later in their educational career as they need a deeper knowledge of instructional language.

"As children become distant from their peers in academic development, they, in many ways, become marginalized and more separate," he said.

While other parents voiced the idea of ELL classrooms segregating students and creating an atmosphere that fosters bullying, Stuefen referred to it as an "unintended consequence" that the district would work on.

Families are permitted to opt out of ELL services, although the district does not recommend it. A question-and-answer forum will take place at Conrad Fischer on June 25 for further discussion.

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