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Dinuba Schools Sued Over ESL Instruction

Lewis Griswold, Fresno Bee


School Law SuitMay 31--The American Civil Liberties Union is suing Dinuba Unified School District, claiming that the district is denying first- and second-grade English learners the opportunity for an equal education by using a flawed teaching method.


Instead of reading from books like other children, English learners in Dinuba are removed from class for 21/2 hours daily for half the school year and are taught parts of speech and grammar, said Jory Steele, managing attorney for the ACLU of Northern California, which is representing the plaintiffs.


" 'This is the noun. This is the verb. This is the past progressive,' " Steele said. "They are developmentally too young to understand the formal parts of speech. That is not how people learn."


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When they rejoin their classmates halfway through the year, the students are behind, the lawsuit said. Additionally, many are segregated from English-speaking peers except at recess and lunch, the ACLU claimed.


The school district issued a statement Wednesday that it met with the ACLU for "a productive conservation" to try to resolve issues. More talks are expected, the statement said.


The lawsuit is the first in the state to challenge a method of English language instruction for English learners, Steele said. Dinuba schools use Second Language Acquisition Development Instruction, which the ACLU said is unsupported by academic research for first- and second-graders.


The state Department of Education also is being sued because it approved the program Dinuba adopted, Steele said.


The Department of Education issued a statement Wednesday faulting the parties for not "making a good-faith effort to meet with state officials to address their concerns."


Dinuba third-grade teacher Nona Rhea said she opposes removing children from the classroom for lengthy periods.


"The heartbreak for me is to see kids separated for 21/2 hours a day while their peers are receiving the grade-level program," Rhea said.


The ACLU of Northern California filed the lawsuit in Sacramento County Superior Court on behalf of 11 plaintiffs, including four Dinuba teachers and two parents. The parents sued anonymously "to protect their families," the ACLU said. Three others also filed anonymously.


Dinuba parents and teachers tried to get changes to the English-learner program by meeting with administrators and school board members but were stonewalled, Steele said.


The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6104 or

Dinuba Schools Sued Over ESL Instruction

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