By John Crowder
The May 13 meeting of the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) Board of Education lasted well into the night, with members of the public lining up to speak about three main issues, English Language Development (ELD), the hiring of a head football coach at Deer Valley High School (DVHS), and the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP).
Public comments related to ELD at the meeting coincided with a report given to the Board by the District English Learner Advisory Committee (DELAC). Following the report, both parents and students complained that some students were being, “wrongly classified,” as English learners. As a consequence, they said, these students were being removed from core classes during the school day in order to work on their language skills, and were, thus, being prevented from taking electives or Advanced Placement (AP) classes.
The discussion which ensued focused on the process mandated by the state of California for classifying students as English learners. According to Stephanie Anello, Associate Superintendent, Educational Services, the California Department of Education requires schools to determine the languages spoken at home by each student.
When a parent lists a language other than English on a state-mandated form they are given, the schools are then required to provide their students with, “meaningful instruction” in English. Such instruction continues until they are able to pass the California English Language Development Test (CELDT), a test that gets progressively harder each academic year.
“If a parent states that a language other than English is spoken in the home, the District is required to administer the CELDT test. Some students who take the test score ‘initially fluent proficient’ (IFP) and are not classified as English learners,” Anello explained. “Those who do not are classified as English learners and receive services until such time as they are reclassified.”
Those objecting to the process indicated that the programs implemented for English learning, in some instances, were actually harming those they were intended to help. One student said that some of her friends were prevented from taking AP or Honors classes because they were, “stuck in ELD.” She called the process, “unfair.”
Willie Mims, Education Chair for the East County NAACP, said, “The English Language Survey is problematic,” because the parents who fill out the form are not aware of the consequences. He also said that he knows of a student who spoke only English, yet was stuck in ELD classes.
Mims went on to say, referring to the CELDT, that many native English speakers cannot pass the test, and that, “It’s discriminatory in nature,” because, “This one specific subgroup is paying the price for some…[bad] legislation.”
Board Member Barbara Cowan concurred with those speaking out.
“It’s inequitable if kids have to take ELD classes and are thus unable to take A-G electives,” she said.
She agreed with Mims that, “the test is difficult to pass, and there are students who are English only who cannot pass the test.” But, she said, it is an issue that must be resolved with the state.
Also in agreement with those speaking out were board President Claire Smith and Vice President Diane Gibson-Gray, each suggesting that the school district work with parents by engaging their legislators to make needed changes.
DVHS Football Coach
Several parents and others spoke in favor of hiring Saleem Muhammad, currently the Strength and Conditioning/Running Backs Coach at Los Medanos College (LMC) as head coach for DVHS. All of the speakers at the meeting praised Muhammad for the work he does and has done with student athletes. “He’s all about the kids,” said one of those speaking on his behalf.
Following public comments regarding Muhammad and the coaching position, the Board entered a closed session meeting, part of which was to include a discussion of the coaching job. After the closed session, the board had nothing to report about the issue at that time.
Also during public comments, a handful of speakers discussed the LCAP process. This followed an update regarding the LCAP given to the board at a work study session which took place prior to the regular meeting.
One speaker, Reggie Johnigan, representing the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO), spoke of the LCAP process.
“The district is not truly engaging parents,” he said. “Last year…we were not taken seriously.”
Complaining that, “students are not getting the support they need to succeed academically,” Johnigan also referenced the recent threat of a lawsuit, temporarily settled with the NAACP. Saying that, “parents are ignored until a lawsuit is brought forward,” he asked for, “better engagement.”
Other speakers echoed the remarks made by Johnigan, calling for “real, authentic engagement,” and asking the board to, “stop reacting to lawsuits.”
One part of the LCAP presentation that drew a positive response from members of the public and board members alike was the emphasis on bringing back Visual and Performing Arts. Several slides shown during the LCAP presentation focused on this topic. One parent, Julie Young, thanked Anello for, “saving the Deer Valley music program.”
Board President Smith and Board Member Walter Ruehlig both emphasized the importance of music in education.
The next school board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, May 27, at 7:00 p.m. Meetings take place in the School Services Building, located at 510 G Street.