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by Gail Marsh
(June 4)The Harrison County Board of Education was the first board in the state to adopt a county-wide policy to ensure that county students who do not speak English fluently can receive the help they need.
If a student's native language is something other than English, the Limited English Proficiency policy, approved during a recent school board meeting, makes sure he or she learns to speak English.
Rick Belcastro, with the county's special education department, said the school system has always accommodated students who were learning English as a second language (ESL), but the policy was needed to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
"It's a federal mandate that prohibits denial of equal access to education due to limited English proficiency (LEP)," Belcastro said.
No students who fall under the LEP category live in Harrison County, but three French students who can't speak English are slated to take classes in the fall when the family transfers to this area.
"We have some staff people who can help and we are in touch with teachers of ESL at Salem-Teikyo University and West Virginia University who can assist us when the need arises," he said.
In the past, the school system taught two Spanish-speaking students until they came up to speed. A native Vietnamese student also received help with his English skills.
"We did contract with WVU for an ESL teacher for that student because we had no one on staff who spoke Vietnamese," he said.
Belcastro stressed that the county's LEP policy does not promote bilingual education.
"This is much different than California's bilingual education. We work in conjunction with their native language to move them toward good English skills," he said.
On Tuesday, California voters passed Proposition 227, which struck down the state's 30-year-old bilingual education system in favor of no more than one year of in-depth English instruction. Now all children must be taught in English, with tutoring available to help students adapt.
Proponents argued that children pick up English quickly and that the current system of teaching students in their native language causes them to fall behind. Opponents admit there are problems with bilingual education, but don't agree with the plan to stop all bilingual instruction. The matter will likely end up in court before it can be implemented.
"It can often take several years for ESL students to achieve at satisfactory levels in a scholastic setting. We want to do whatever it takes to help them succeed academically," Belcastro said.