Second federal investigation probes Buffalo schools

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Buffalo School District now faces a second federal investigation launched by the U.S. Department of Education.

The Department’s Civil Rights Office is looking into conditions at Lafayette High School on the city’s west side.

70 percent of Lafayette’s students are English Language Learners. Many are refugees and immigrants.

“We only have five translators to cover forty-two languages, and they really don’t have the support that they really need,” said Lisa Griffith, who filed the complaint on behalf of parents at Lafayette. She is a parent facilitator at the school.

The U.S. Department of Education will investigate the alleged “segregation” of English Language Learners, as well as charges that the school was the only one in Buffalo not to have undergone a building upgrade.

“We need to have our science labs updated, bathroom updated. We need more class space,” said Griffith.

There is a move to have many of these students attend main-stream public schools.

“They can’t really learn the language and learn the culture without being around English-speaking and American children,” said Dr. Wendy Mistretta. She chairs the Multilingual Family Support Committee.

The district already faces major consequences if it fails to act quickly on the first civil rights investigation findings, involving so-called “criteria-based” schools.

These are schools including City Honors, which require academic exams to get in. They have been found to disproportionately exclude non-white students from enrollment. The district is under orders to come up with a new plan.

“We’ve been forced as parents to go to the Office of Civil Rights, and go seek federal intervention,” said Sam Radford, President of the Parent District Coordinating Council in Buffalo.

The Office of Civil Rights has warned the district it “may initiate administrative enforcement or judicial proceedings to enforce…specific terms…”

The warning includes a potential suspension of federal financial assistance if recommendations are ignored.

“This is very serious,” says Radford. “This is, at least, as far as we’re concerned, equivalent to when the federal courts came in and took over the schools because they wouldn’t desegregate.”

 

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