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6 Suffolk school districts pledge better communication with limited-English students and families

Six Suffolk County school districts have pledged to better communicate with children who have limited English proficiency and their families after a review by the state attorney general's Civil Rights Bureau prompted by complaints from immigrant advocates.

The Amityville, Greenport, East Hampton, Hampton Bays, Patchogue-Medford and Riverhead school systems each signed a legally binding agreement meant to bring uniformity to their policies and procedures regarding these students, state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said Wednesday.

The move is not directly connected to the influx of unaccompanied minors who came to Long Island from Central America last spring and summer. But it does reflect some districts' struggles to serve that population. The inquiry began last February, after parents had alerted advocates.

The attorney general's office did not release details of complaints made about the districts.

Amityville Superintendent Mary T. Kelly said her district "collaborated with the attorney general's office in order to be proactive and to ensure that the district remains in compliance with all laws and regulations."

She said the system wasn't cited for any deficiencies and is committed to providing "appropriate services, resources and support for our English-language learners."

Lars Clemensen, superintendent of the Hampton Bays district, said it already had procedures in place to accommodate such students and constantly re-evaluates its policies.

The other districts' administrators were not available for comment.

The school systems agreed to screen all new students for their language ability and to notify parents in their native language of an array of items, including their child's placement in a bilingual/English Language Learner program, evaluation for special education services or discipline.

Parents also will be offered interpreting services at many school functions, and districts will have translated materials available on their websites, along with contact information for their language access coordinators.

The attorney general said the children will not face any enrollment hurdles and that school staff will be trained on language access and enrollment procedures.

Lucas Sánchez, Long Island director of New York Communities for Change, an advocacy group, was glad to hear about the agreement. His group was not involved in this case, but has pushed for reform in other districts, including Hempstead, chided by the state for turning away scores of unaccompanied minors at the start of this school year.

"I think this is symptomatic of the way that a lot of school districts are resisting the demographic changes on Long Island," Sánchez said.

Those shifts, he said, are not going away.

"Whether they are Latinos or Haitians, the school districts need to accommodate them," he said.

Schneiderman, in a statement, said 12 percent to 16 percent of students in each of the six Suffolk districts are in the category of limited English proficiency.

In the county, 17 percent of residents speak a language other than English, 8 percent speak Spanish and 6 percent don't speak English well, the attorney general's office said.

The bureau's inquiry will expand to other school districts throughout the state.

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