Boston is failing to meet students’ wide-ranging learning needs
Thank you for highlighting inequities in the placement of students with disabilities in dual language programs (“Students with disabilities left out of bilingual classes: Advocates see discrimination in BPS numbers,” Page A1, June 1). Greater access to these programs is urgently needed for English learners with disabilities, who face startling inequities in educational outcomes that have widened significantly due to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19.
Dual language programs can and must be designed to account for the learning needs of all students, including those with disabilities. This can be best accomplished with input from multilingual families and by using Universal Design for Learning, a teaching approach that accommodates a wide range of abilities through a flexible learning environment that engages students in a variety of ways. Boston has failed to implement the principles of this approach because of arbitrary, last-minute placement decisions of students with disabilities, lack of coordination, and other factors.
As a lawyer for multilingual students and families at Massachusetts Advocates for Children, I see many English learners with disabilities excluded from opportunities to learn in their language alongside students who share their language and cultural background. School districts mistakenly believe these programs cannot meet students’ disability-related needs. Making dual language programs more accessible is one approach to remedying this inequity. Furthermore, inclusive educational programs designed to meet the needs of students with disabilities lead to better education and improved outcomes for all students.
With Boston and other school districts planning to launch dual language programs, it is especially timely that we highlight this barrier to equal educational opportunity.
Diana I. Santiago
Massachusetts Advocates for Children
‘I am someone who benefited from such a program’
I read the article on students with disabilities left out of dual language programs in Boston schools as someone who benefited from such a program.
I came to Boston from the Dominican Republic in 2006, not knowing any English and having impaired vision, being partially deaf, and having a learning disability. I attended the Timilty Middle School and was placed in a bilingual program, where I learned English and received instruction in other classes in Spanish. By the time I went to Madison Park High School, I was fluent in English. I subsequently graduated from Bunker Hill Community College and the University of Massachusetts Boston, and now I assist students with disabilities in schools in the Boston area.
Special education students must be included in BPS bilingual programs because these programs work.
The writer is youth transition services facilitator at the Boston Center For Independent Living.
Highlight, too, the schools that work hard to succeed in this effort
Reading the Globe every day, it is easy to get the impression that Boston Public Schools is mired in scandal and dysfunction. Clearly, there is much that needs to change, and the inequalities within the system are unacceptable. But the article “Students with disabilities left out of bilingual classes” was a missed opportunity to highlight the work that is being done at these dual language schools to welcome and serve students with disabilities.
Teachers and families at the Rafael Hernandez K-8 School are working to create a model for a fully inclusive bilingual curriculum. This work is innovative and expensive, since it requires additional materials and learning specialists who can teach in both languages, but it is worth the investment. The experience of learning alongside peers with different language skills and academic styles benefits both English learners and Spanish learners and students with and without disabilities.
We hope that the Globe can balance its negative coverage of BPS with reporting that identifies the places where teachers and administrators are excelling so that we can support the expansion of these models to other schools and make sure that English learners with disabilities are given the same range of school choices as their peers.
Emily and Carl Lowenberg
The writers are parents of students at the Rafael Hernandez K-8 School.