The Cambrian

State dings Coast Unified School District over plan for English learners

The California Department of Education has upheld a parent’s claim that the Coast Unified School District hasn’t met all the legal requirements for providing a framework in which parents of English learner students can meet and confer.

After previously bringing his concerns to the district, Lee Chamberlain filed a complaint with the state on March 5, citing the district’s lack of an English Learner Advisory Committee (ELAC) or District English Learner Advisory Committee (DELAC), and that parents hadn’t been consulted when the district’s master plan for English learners was drafted.

According to district Superintendent Chris Adams, the district relied on legal advice in dealing with the complaint. He said the district is preparing to respond to the state’s ruling.

In a lengthy oral report given to the district Board of Trustees in March, attorney Dianne Beall said the district had complied with the state’s requirements. She said she’d reviewed district ELAC/DELAC meeting logs and documents dating back as far as 2008.

She and district officials said a primary problem was in enticing the parents to attend the often-lengthy meetings, especially at the middle school. That was truer than ever, she said, during challenging economic times when many were working more than one job to provide for their families, or when they may have children on more than one campus.

“The tension of the law” is that “you can’t make people serve on an ELAC,” Beall said. “There’s nothing in the education code or state guidelines to tell a district what to do when you schedule a meeting, and people come, but the committee members don’t show up. You do the best you can.”

She said other districts struggle with the same requirements.

Adams said one DELAC meeting was held with 65 families, including 7 ELAC members. “They picked a date to go through the handbook” as required, but then on that date, only “two people showed up.”

Beall also said state code is vague about such things as how many times a year such committees are to meet.

The district also has reached out to English-learner parents and families in various other ways, Beall said, including offering parent leadership classes, expanded Rosetta Stone language training in English and Spanish, increased student preparation for state testing and setting objectives and goals for English learners. Since then, the district also has added technical and computer training for English learner and other parents, and is planning to offer evening classes for families, especially parents seeking to earn their General Education Development diplomas.

She said, “the argument could be made that they (English learner parents) are happy with the program and don’t see the need to be active on the committee.”

The code

According to state Education Code, each school within a district with more than 20 pupils of limited English proficiency “shall establish a school — level advisory committee on which parents or guardians, or both, of such pupils constitute membership in at least the same percentage as their children or wards.” Those committees are to advise principals and staff in developing a master plan for the individual school’s bilingual language. That plan is to be submitted to the governing board to be included in the district’s master plan.

Participating parents also are to assist in developing school-needs assessments, a language census, and ways to make parents aware of how important regular school attendance is for their children’ progress.

District records

School records show that six ELAC meetings were held for Cambria Grammar School between October 2008 and October 2011, seven ELAC meetings were held for Santa Lucia Middle School between November 2007 and February 2012. Coast Union High School hasn’t held ELAC meetings since September 2008, due to “poor parent participation,” which also has been a problem at the middle school level.

The district contends that in 2011 and 2012, it made attempts to increase parent participation in the middle-school ELAC, including newsletters, mailers and automated-call reminders.

According to state documents, investigators found that “although the district demonstrated some effort to recruit parents for participation in the ELAC, there is not sufficient evidence that the district made a ‘good faith effort’ to establish and maintain” functioning committees at each school site from 2007 through the present time.

The state will monitor the district for progress in these matters through the 2013-2014 school year, and is requiring the district to show it has complied with the law on the ELACs and DELAC, including: copies of the district’s ELAC meeting calendar; meeting notifications, agendas, minutes, sign-in sheets and training materials; and documentation of how respective ELACs selected their DELAC members. Coast Unified also must ensure that the DELAC fulfills its rights and responsibilities.