SDL settles lawsuit over immigrant students who speak little or no English

LANCASTER, Pa. - The School District of Lancaster (SDL) has reached a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania (ELC) concerning the District’s education of 17 to 21-year-old immigrant students who speak little or no English. The agreement, approved Tuesday night by the SDL school board, ends a lawsuit filed last August.

“Tonight’s outcome is a positive step forward for our students, our taxpayers, and our community,” said SDL Superintendent Dr. Damaris Rau. “SDL is proudly serving more than 1,950 English Learners this school year, including more than 550 refugee students. More than 98 percent of these students attend McCaskey or one of the District’s elementary or middle schools. This agreement allows a small number of older and under-credited students to access a revised program at McCaskey while giving the District important discretion in programming and planning.”

More specifically, under the agreement, the District will continue to operate its accelerated Phoenix Academy program for older students who do not have enough credits to graduate from high school before turning 21 years of age. Immigrant students between 17 and 21 years old with little or no English proficiency will now also be given the option to attend the District’s McCaskey High School. Those with no English proficiency will spend their first marking period, at minimum, in a “Newcomer Program” (formerly called the International School) on the McCaskey campus. Once students achieve a beginning level of English proficiency, they may enter a Small Learning Community at McCaskey or transfer to Phoenix Academy, where they can earn credits faster toward graduation.

Importantly, to provide for the safety of all students, the District will create separate classroom groups for students who are aged 19 to 21. This avoids having high school students as young as age 14 sharing classrooms with students who are young adults aged 19 to 21 years.

“We are proud to have incredibly caring and professional educators” said Edie Gallagher, SDL Board Vice President. “The agreement builds on this tradition of caring and this foundation of great education. We are pleased to have found a way to improve our offerings and to further our community’s commitment to serve arriving families and students” she added.

Under the settlement, the District’s insurance company will pay $300,000 for the plaintiffs’ legal fees, none of which will involve taxpayer dollars. The District will reimburse the plaintiffs $70,000 towards out-of-pocket expenses incurred in the litigation. The District will also create a $66,500 fund for educational programs supplementing its offerings, which will be accessible to immigrant students covered under the settlement.

The District will be implementing enhancements to both its programs at McCaskey and at Phoenix Academy, to improve educational opportunities for all students.

About SDL:
The School District of Lancaster serves 11,300 students including 1,950 English Language Learners. See more at http://www.lancaster.k12.pa.us.