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SFUSD updates plan for English language learning programs

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Third graders work on math problems at Argonne Elementary School. Cindy Chew/S.F. Examiner (8/4/09)

The San Francisco Unified School District over the next three years will begin translating essential documents for parents, including the student family handbook and enrollment information, into five languages — more than ever before.

Such information, which was previously only offered in Cantonese and Spanish in addition to English, will soon be available in Vietnamese, Arabic and Tagalog.

The unprecedented change for the district is part of its updated plan for English language learner programs and services that was first required following the landmark 1974 U.S. Supreme Court decision ensuring limited English-speaking students would not be denied access to education.

The SFUSD since 2012 has been developing its latest updated Lau Action Plan, named for the Lau v. Nichols case that was originally filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco in 1970 on behalf of Chinese-American students in The City who had limited English language proficiency.

Of the district’s 13,796 English language learner students, 47 percent speak Spanish, 32 percent speak Cantonese, 3 percent speak Tagalog, 3 percent speak Arabic and 3 percent speak Vietnamese. The remaining students speak other languages.

The updated plan, approved by the Board of Education on Tuesday, also involves moving more students from English learner status to English proficient, meaning students will have more opportunities to take electives and other coursework in middle and high school.

Christina Wong, special assistant to the superintendent of the SFUSD, emphasized that many of the changes to the plan, which was last updated in 2008, reflect modifications to the district’s overall curriculum enhancements that include the California English Language Development Standards, Common Core State Standard and the district’s language pathways

“We wanted the new plan to not impede our flexibility with the changing of standards,” Wong said. “We wanted to make sure we had a policy and practices that were sustainable over time.”

The updated plan also includes the hiring and recruitment of teachers, and professional development for district staff. Various community groups offered input, including the Asian American Administrators Association, Bilingual Community Council and Coleman Advocates.
“This will allow us to develop a very comprehensive master plan for English learners even beyond the consent decree,” Wong said.

Last week the plaintiffs in the federal case and the district asked a federal judge to approve the modified agreement, which district officials expect will happen this summer.
The district also anticipates that, with the current revisions, full compliance with the Lau plan will be reached in the 2018-19 school year, meaning authorities can sunset the consent decree.

Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

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