Jawando Files Civil Rights Complaint Re MCPS Immersion Programs

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Recent CD8 candidate Will Jawando has filed a civil rights complaint with the federal Department of Education regarding the use of lotteries to fill slots in MCPS’ immersion programs.

Will Jawando, who also worked for the U.S. Department of Education and recently lost a race for Congress in the Democratic primary, argues in the complaint that the high-performing Maryland school district violates federal law in the way it recruits and selects its language-immersion students.

The school system fails to publicize the opportunities in areas with high percentages of black and Hispanic students — or to “conduct meaningful outreach” — and many parents are unaware that such options exist, according to the complaint, which Jawando filed this week.

“As a result, many of the high-demand language immersion programs enroll disproportionately high numbers of white, non-poor students, while denying benefits of the program to otherwise interested and qualified students of color and those from lower-income families,” it says.

The complaint asks the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to investigate, and it requests that the school system be required to enter into an agreement to expand access to, and better serve, African American and Hispanic students in elementary language immersion and other special academic programs.

In the end, the Jawandos did get in the lottery but didn’t get a slot. They did get offered a slot in the partial immersion program at Rolling Terrace, but decided not to pursue it. 

 Jawando said his daughter was offered a spot in a partial immersion program at Rolling Terrace Elementary in Montgomery — an option the family researched and decided was not a good fit. The 5-year-old will now attend kindergarten at a parochial school, affiliated with the family’s church, that offers language immersion, he said.

The underrepresentation of minority students in language immersion programs is exacerbated by the automatic admission of siblings of students currently in the programs. 45% of the slots now go to siblings, according to a report commissioned by the school system itself and released in March. But considering that the Jawandos were able to get in the lottery and in fact turned down a slot at Rolling Terrace makes one wonder if they’re the right parties to be bringing a claim like this one. Surely there are families who never learned of the lottery at all who would be more appropriate plaintiffs? But in any event this is a significant issue that clearly needs addressing.

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