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Jefferson Parish reaches agreement to end investigation into discrimination of Latino students

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NEW ORLEANS — Officials say Jefferson Parish public school administrators have reached an agreement with the federal government to end an investigation into discrimination against English-language learners.

NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune (http://bit.ly/1xUrxmo) reports the three-year agreement, brokered with the U.S. departments of Education and Justice, requires that Jefferson make a number of changes to its programs:

—Revise enrollment materials to ensure they don't discourage a student from enrolling because of citizenship or immigration status. Administrators shouldn't require that a child present a Social Security card in order to enroll or graduate.

—Create a bilingual parent advisory committee to make recommendations on servicing English language learners. Provide updates on potential harassment and bullying.

—Train faculty, staff and students at West Jefferson High School, where the alleged bullying of these students occurred, on anti-bullying, harassment and diversity.

—Implement translation and interpretation policies, to ensure parents of these students receive essential information in a language they understand.

The investigation was launched after the Southern Poverty Law Center filed two 2012 complaints alleging that Jefferson failed to provide needed services for students struggling to learn English. School officials failed to translate key materials or provide interpreters, making it difficult for students and families to understand school policies, according to the complaints.

The complaints said Jefferson teachers routinely interrogated students about citizenship status, creating a hostile learning environment. Tensions came to a head when a teacher allegedly called a Latino student a racial slur during physical education class at West Jefferson High.

The "incredibly comprehensive" agreement will resolve many of the complainants grievances, said Jennifer Coco, a Southern Poverty Law Center attorney. "It's taken several years, but we are happy for a resolution," she said.

An Education Department spokesman said Wednesday that it is typical for school systems to enter voluntary agreements to resolve these cases, without going to court.

Jefferson officials have already made some headway in improving programs, chief academic officer Michelle Blouin-Williams said. The school system has worked to secure translators and interpreters, and it has created policy for translating materials for non-native English speakers.


Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com

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