RPS making changes after losing track of 800 students who don’t speak English

RPS loses track of 800 ESL students

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A recent review found the Richmond Public Schools central office was unaware of 800 students who spoke little to no English and needed extra support.

The oversight led to overcrowded classrooms and RPS losing out on state funding. Teachers say they’re being overworked and need the district to take this seriously.

The term ESL stands for students who speak “English as a Second Language.” Teachers who work with that population say in some cases the number of students has doubled, while staffing has remained the same.

After an audit was conducted, RPS says it now realizes that for years teachers have had a higher work load than the central office was aware of due to internal policies that weren’t streamlined across the district to better account for the growing number of students who don’t speak English.

"Right now, there’s a future RPS student sitting in a detention cage at the Mexico/U.S. Border who is alone, sick and terrified. My (English learning) students come to my classroom after experiencing unimaginable hardships and trauma, yet they are expected to sit in classrooms with 40-plus students and take standardized tests in a language they don’t understand,” said teacher Anne Forrester.

"Sixty students registered just after Christmas break alone, and what happens is those are all Level One students with not a single word of English, not even, ‘hello, how are you?’ Then they come into our classrooms which increases our numbers to 40-plus per classroom which also means we now have to take progress that we’ve been advancing since September with the students who have been there since September and have to completely restart in order for these students to catch up,” teacher Kirsten Buist said.

On top of that, the district specialist who oversaw these services retired in December. That position remains open.

Now, the central office says it will do what it must to make things right. That includes bringing on 12 additional teachers to work with students learning English, streamlining how these students are identified and tested when they come to RPS, and paying for teachers to receive training and endorsements to better work with this growing population.

When it comes to RPS not knowing about those 800 extra students who needed more support, school board member Liz Doerr called it quote "really upsetting."

As for the district now righting the wrongs, Board Chair Dawn Page said “this should’ve been done yesterday.”

Copyright 2019 WWBT. All rights reserved.