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Parents push Adams 14 School District to expand biliteracy education

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. -- A fight over Spanish language education is brewing within the Adams 14 School District.

Parents in the majority-Hispanic school district are worried school administrators are working to prevent the expansion of teaching English and Spanish to students in grades K-12.

Some parents, who gathered at a school board meeting Tuesday, threatened to recall members of the school board over the issue.

The parents said they want the district to embrace an education that focuses on English and Spanish. Doing that has its challenges, according to district administrators.

“What they essentially want to do is do away with biliteracy and bilingual education in the district,” said Janet Estrada, a parent of an elementary school student.

Nearly half of the students are English language learners, according to district statistics.

Educators say Adams 14 is one of the lowest-performing school districts in the state. It is one of several in Colorado under strict government scrutiny that requires higher test scores, among other things.

“We are committed to helping [students] learn English so that they can be successful and reach our graduation requirements,” Adams 14 spokeswoman Janelle Asmus said.

Superintendent Dr. Javier Abrego, who has been on the job for more than a year, is known by colleagues as a “turnaround guy.”

He’s someone hired to fix academic performance issues, according to district leaders.

Abrego’s perceived focus in the community is on English education. English is a language students need to know to pass standardized tests.

“We are taking time to explore what the data is telling us,” Asmus said.

Adams 14 is hitting the pause button on biliteracy education past the third grade. Many parents want both languages to be taught from grades K through 12.

An education professor from the University of Colorado agrees with the parents.

“Kids actually achieve faster and better when they’re taught through both their languages, especially when they’re bilinguals,” professor Deborah Palmer said.

Adams 14 said it will continue allowing students to speak in Spanish from years K through 12, but biliteracy will stop before children enter the fourth grade.

Parents say their fight is far from over.

“I’m not just looking at the superintendent, but also school leaders because ultimately they have a say at what happens at their schools,” Estrada said.

The district said schools were mandated to teach English only before Abrego was hired, during the tenure of a previous superintendent.

Adams 14 has since realized that approach did not work well.