Under pressure from federal justice officials, Clay County Schools will increase services for students trying to learn English for the first time.
An investigation by the U.S. Justice Department found that Clay Schools had violated the Equal Eduactional Opportunities Act, which requires schools to take special steps to help students are are not proficient in English.
Clay Schools did not provide English learners with the proper instruction to become fluent in English and failed to provide non-English-speaking parents with important information in a familiar language, the Justice Department found.
The department also found that English learning students could not meaningfully participate in classes like math, science and social studies and did not receive individualized academic and behavioral support that is available to other students.
“Students who are learning English have the right to engage in coursework alongside their peers, and schools must take action necessary to make that right a reality,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a news release. “The Justice Department will continue to hold schools accountable when they fail to deliver on our collective promise of equality. This agreement will help ensure that English learner students in Clay County are given the tools necessary to succeed and strive in the classroom.”
The Justice Department said its investigation included interviews of Central Office staff, interviews of school-based personnel and classroom observations. The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division and the US Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida jointly investigated the issue.
Superintendent David Broskie, who took office after the federal probe began in 2020, “cooperated fully throughout,” a report said.
The school district released this statement in response to the investigation:
“The district was contacted in 2019 regarding support services for English Speakers of Other Languages. The district continues to work through our Title III and ESOL Department to ensure our teachers are certified and trained in strategies that successfully support and teach ESOL students while simultaneously teaching students the English language. Our current program has been approved by the state of Florida, and the district stands prepared to continue building upon the success of our current English Learner Program and expand the program through the implementation of additional coaching and support.”
About 1,250 of the district’s 38,000 students are learning how to become fluent in English, the Justice Department said. Of those, about two-thirds of English-learning students speak Spanish. In total, the district’s students and families speak about 43 different languages.
Clay Schools has agreed to modify its practices so English learners are identified and also provide students with language services if they qualify.
The district also will make sure teachers are trained to provide enough support to help English learners become fluent in English and understand core-content courses like elementary and secondary math, science, social studies and English.
Parents who are not fluent in English will receive proper language translation and interpretation of important school information, the department said.
The Justice Department will oversee the changes over the next four school years.
“School districts must provide English learner students with appropriate services to overcome language barriers,” said U.S. Attorney Roger Handberg for the Middle District of Florida. “We are pleased that the Clay County School District has agreed to embrace its obligation to meet the language needs of its English learners so that students can learn English and fully participate in the district’s educational experience. Equal access to educational opportunities is at the heart of civil rights protections for our youth, and students are entitled to equal access despite any language barriers they may have.”