Lewiston School Board backs new English learning plan

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LEWISTON — The school board approved the school district’s new plan to identify and educate English language learners at its Monday meeting, and considered the possible creation of designated prayer spaces in schools.

Half a dozen community members shared their views on the updated English language learning program, called the Lau Plan, which outlines the identification and education of students identified as language learners. English. The previous policy was outdated and no longer met state standards, according to school board members.

Community members and the student representative told the committee that some families do not want their students to be identified as English language learners. Among other requirements, these students must pass an English proficiency exam each year which determines whether the student will continue in the English learning program.

A parent of three Lewiston High School graduates told the committee that whenever the school called to ask if a language other than English was spoken at home, he would tell the caller, “No, we don’t speak no other language, we speak english. ”

If a second language is spoken at home, the student is automatically considered an English learning student until they test the program.

“This is how I cheated the system, and it needs to be changed,” he said.

His children, born in the United States, are of English mother tongue. The presence of a second language in a student’s home should not require the student to be placed in English language learning classes, he said, noting that for some students it may hinder their academic progress.

In some cases, students stay in the English learning program because they don’t put in the effort for the annual proficiency test, others said.

“The main reason why students hate taking this access test is that it is something that is repeated every year, (the) same questions,” said school committee student representative Leila Abdi, a high school junior. “It’s really easy, but tricky at the same time.

Deputy Superintendent Karen Paquette said the district is limited in what changes it can make to the plan because some sections are required by state or federal agencies.

“I think we can always change the laws,” the relative said. “If it’s not working for us and it’s affecting our children, we need to change it. We must challenge it.

After community members shared their opinions and experiences, Superintendent Jake Langlais came to the defense of the district system.

“I also don’t want to say everything is broken, that’s just not true,” Langlais said. “We’ve seen people turn down services for family (or) personal reasons, and watch them get into college classes and fail completely, and then we want the school to explain why they were in those classes they couldn’t pass .”

“When you start getting into academic language, we find a lot of students who are really struggling, who need extra support,” he added.

City Council Representative Linda Scott said she thinks it’s a much broader conversation that needs to include the state Department of Education and potentially Lewiston lawmakers. Still, she said she wasn’t against approving the plan, noting that she thinks it’s a better plan than the old one.

In the end, the school committee approved the plan, with several members noting that they aim to advocate for change at the legislative level.

PRAYER SPACE

Following requests from several members of the school committee and students on the prayer space in schools, Langlais consulted legal representation. He found that schools could designate prayer spaces, but there were many restrictions and students had to be supervised.

By providing space, school staff could not participate, endorse or promote anything based on faith. Religious activities could not be practiced during instruction hours.

One challenge, Langlais said, is that schools don’t have extra space to spare. Still, he said the designation of prayer spaces was possible.

A 2020 Lewiston High School graduate said he would take 10-15 minutes each day during his lunch break to pray, as required by Islam. The problem was finding a private space, he said. Sometimes he ended up praying in a space under a staircase, but during the winter the space was too cold.

A local mosque leader, speaking through an interpreter, told the committee that all Muslims aged 15 or older are required to pray five times a day. Missing a prayer is a “big sin, so they’re always worried, like, ‘what if I keep missing my prayers while I’m in school?'”

He requested that the school committee allow students to practice their religion by creating a designated prayer space.

The school committee took no action on Monday, but said it would continue the discussion on prayer spaces.

Speaking of future agenda items, Ward 5 Representative Ashley Medina suggested that the school committee have a conversation with parents and students to learn more about bullying at school. She cited discussions in the Lewiston Rocks Facebook group regarding parents’ views on bullying.

General Representative Megan Parks suggested the school could invite parents and students to speak at forums. Langlais reminded the community that not all comments or posts about bullying on social media are accurate.

During public comments, Jaye Rich, president of the Lewiston Education Association and an ESL teacher at McMahon Elementary School, suggested that the school committee consider adopting a ground acknowledgment to recite at the start of their meetings.

A land acknowledgment is a brief statement that acknowledges Indigenous peoples as the original inhabitants of the land.

In addition, Acting Director of English Language Learning Lysa McLemore has been promoted to the position on a permanent basis.


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