Hart District updates 20-year-old English-learner policies

William S. Hart Union High School District board members approved updates to the district’s 20-year-old English-learner policies Wednesday.

First passed in 1999, the board policies had not been updated on paper for the last two decades, although there have been changes to the district’s policies at its various school sites over the last two decades, according to Jan Daisher, director of special programs for the Hart District. Thursday’s approval essentially brings the district up-to-date “on paper,” for policy changes dictated by the state since the district’s last revision.

“It’s not that we haven’t changed the program to meet all the new laws and legislation, we just had never updated the policies on paper,” said Daisher. “Over the last 20 years, education for English learners has changed dramatically in California.”

Board policy updates involved “starting over entirely,” according to Daisher, who said the word “language” had been stricken from the term for these students, who are now being referred to as “English Learner,” as opposed to “English Language Learner.” The policies also now reflect school staff’s prerogative to ensure equal learning opportunities for EL students, and the one hour given to them each day for designated support.

Daisher said the latest law, Proposition 58, repealed a piece of legislation passed in 1998, named Proposition 227. Proposition 227 required all students to be taught in English and that “English Language Learners” be put in separate “sheltered classes and no bilingual education would be offered.

The revisions — mandated by Proposition 58, which California voters approved in 2016 — have been implemented over the last few years, ultimately leading to the 2018 California EL Roadmap. The roadmap changed policies for English learner programs, from ensuring English proficiency, to requiring parent involvement, to creating integrated and designated English Language Development.

“What we found was that English learners didn’t have the same opportunities as our English-speaking students,” said Daisher. “And that’s not fair, that’s a civil rights violation … so that’s where the new laws have all come in to say, ‘No, no, no — English learners shall not be denied the same opportunities as every student enrolled in school.’”

The bulk of the work done over the last two years, according to Daisher, has been to integrate these students into general education classes, taking English, science and history classes. Teachers are also taught how to teach these students.

“That language barrier is challenging, but that doesn’t mean they can’t learn,” said Daisher.

Other policies already in practice by the district but codified during the Wednesday night meeting included new identification, assessment and placement standards, as well as parent notification of testing-assessment results within 30 days. In addition, the “integrated education” portion into policy, the district also updated its policies involving the designated support portion.

“They have a class where all we’re going to be working on in there now is the language itself and supporting them in all their other subjects,” said Daisher, adding that the designated support class is for an hour each day.

Another major change, according to Daisher, was that the definition for English Learners went from a paragraph, to a longer definition that was more specific to the goals the district and state have for these students.

“I think it is excellent because it defines what we want to teach English learners and what we want to accomplish in specificity,” said Hart District board President Bob Jensen. “Mind you, I think (district staff and board members) have done an excellent job with English learners; but I like the fact that we’re making our objectives more specific, because I think it will enhance their accomplishments.”

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