U46 defends gifted programs as not ‘segregated’
By Emily McFarlan firstname.lastname@example.org March 14, 2012 9:30PM
Updated: April 16, 2012 8:17AM
CHICAGO — Judge Robert W. Gettleman said Wednesday he had problems understanding why a school district would put Hispanic students it considered proficient in English into a gifted program solely for Spanish-speaking students.
Gettleman said that doesn’t seem “compatible” with the stated goal of a district’s English Language Learners program to prepare ELL students for success in an English-only classroom.
And he had a problem Elgin School District U46 Superintendent Jose Torres’ suggestion: “There’s a sense of empowerment you get from seeing students who look like you.”
“If that’s the case, we would have segregated schools,” Gettleman said. “Brown vs. Board would have been wrongly decided.”
But that wasn’t the case in U46, according to witnesses who testified later Wednesday in the racial discrimination trial against the Elgin school district in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago.
Steve Klein said not all students in the district’s gifted program for Spanish-speaking students were considered proficient in English. Klein, now retired, had been director of gifted education in U46 from 1994 to 2007.
Some elementary school students in the district’s Spanish English Transition School Within A School program, or SET SWAS, still were considered English Language Learners, he said. Others recently had exited the ELL program. The program offered instruction in both English and Spanish, he said.
Even those exited students “didn’t have the language ability to succeed” in SWAS, the district’s gifted program, he said.
“The pace in a traditional gifted class is such that students who haven’t mastered the language wouldn’t be able to keep up. We wanted to make sure students were successful,” Klein said.
The former gifted education director listed several ways parents were made aware of the district’s gifted programs, including SET SWAS in elementary school, SWAS in both elementary and middle school and the Academy for Gifted and Talented students at Elgin High School. That included letters to parents when students started third grade, information in school handbooks and fairs for black and Hispanic students elementary school principals had identified as a possible fit for the academy.
But, Klein said, there are many reasons families might decide not to enroll their students in a gifted program. They might be bused to a different school that offered the program — a different school from their friends’ and siblings’ school. “Particularly in some of those subgroups, we had children believe it wasn’t cool or the program was so hard they wouldn’t have fun in high school,” he said.
That comes as plaintiff’s attorneys have presented evidence this week that while more than 200 students were part of the SWAS program in the 2006-07 school year, only two were black, and five, Hispanic.
Phases two and three of the trial, which began last fall, allege the district did not offer access to gifted and advanced programs to black and Hispanic students or appropriate help to ELL students. Phase one of the trial, which was argued last spring, alleges district also discriminated against black and Hispanic students by placing them in overcrowded schools in its 2004 school boundary plan.
On Wednesday, U46 attorneys filed a motion for a partial ruling on the ELL phase of the trial. Gettleman gave plaintiff’s attorneys until March 23 to respond.