scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Nine members of BPS’s English Learners task force resign in protest of district inclusion plan

On October 18, BPS unveiled a multipart plan to overhaul its special education programs. Under the plan, students learning English will only be separated from peers as needed for direct English instruction.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

The majority of a Boston Public Schools task force created to advise the School Committee on how to best serve the needs of students learning English resigned Tuesday morning in protest of the “harmful” and “compromised direction” of the district’s new inclusion plan.

In a letter to Mayor Michelle Wu, Superintendent Mary Skipper, and the School Committee, eight of the task force’s 13 appointed members said the district’s plan to integrate English learners — who represent nearly one-third of BPS students — into general education classrooms will lead to worse outcomes, including higher dropout rates. A ninth member resigned separately.

“We all agree that profound changes are needed to [English Learner] education in the Boston Public Schools,” the letter said. “But the change that BPS is proposing is ill-advised and will be harmful to [students learning English].”


“Continuing to serve on the Task Force,” the letter concluded, “would be a tacit endorsement of the compromised direction that BPS has chosen to take.”

District officials dispute the letter writers’ characterization of the plan, which they say will shift its current practice of isolating students learning English to practices that align with state guidance.

On Oct. 18, BPS unveiled a multipart plan to overhaul its special education and multilingual programs, made as part of a deal with the state to avert a takeover of the district. Under the plan, students learning English will be split up from their English-speaking peers only as needed for direct English instruction, rather than spending their entire days in separate programs. The change will take effect next year in grades K-8 and the following year in grades 9-12.

The district intends to have all English learners in inclusive settings by the 2025-26 school year, and said it will provide supports to those students in general education classrooms.


The School Committee signed off on the plan, but multiple committee members expressed concern about how the plan would teach English learners and whether there would be adequate multilingual staff available to assist them.

The task force members who resigned Tuesday are cochair Suzanne Lee, former principal of the Josiah Quincy Elementary School; education researchers Maria Serpa, Rosann Tung, and Miren Uriarte; advocates John Mudd, Paulo De Barros, and Roxann Harvey; as well as Fabián Torres-Ardila of the Gastón Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

A ninth task force member, former state representative Marie St. Fleur, also resigned Tuesday, separately from her colleagues who signed the letter. In an email announcing her resignation, St. Fleur said the “constant disregard of the task force recommendations” made her question its role and authority.

In a statement, BPS spokesperson Max Baker thanked the members for their years of service and advocacy for multilingual students, but said based on data and state guidance, “it is all too clear that the status quo is not working for our multilingual learners.”

“Our district is committed to adopting inclusive practices so that multilingual students have access to native language services, and receive their required services, while also engaging in learning alongside their peers,” he said. “Our Inclusive Education Plan is the roadmap for making these long-overdue systemic changes, and we look forward to continuing this work alongside our families, educators, students, and community partners.”

The English Learners Task Force was formed by the School Committee in 2009 in response to probes by the US Department of Justice and Department of Education that found the district violated the civil rights of English learners by failing to provide them with specialized instruction. In 2010, BPS reached a settlement agreement with the federal government, requiring the district to reform its programs for English learners and improve teacher training.


At the time, research by Tung and Uriarte had drawn troubling conclusions about the district’s methods for teaching students learning English. Their study looked at districtwide data in the three years following the passage of Question 2 in 2002, a ballot measure that abolished bilingual education, which had allowed students to learn subjects in their native language until they were nearly fluent in English.

The LOOK Act repealed the controversial law in 2017, giving school districts more flexibility in how they teach English learners.

Tung and Uriarte found that between 2003 and 2006 high school dropout rates for English learners in Boston almost doubled while the percentage of students learning English in middle school more than tripled. Gaps on standardized tests between English learners and their peers also widened, the study found.

The crux of the task force’s dispute with district leaders centers on the use of students’ native language in instruction. Decades of research, according to Tung, show that teaching English learners in their native tongue is the best way for them to learn English and perform at grade level in core academic subjects.


The district’s new inclusion plan, the resigning task force members contend, will inappropriately place the vast majority of students learning English in general education classes, regardless of their English proficiency, where they will have access to multilingual services, but not content instruction in their native language.

“We, as a task force, feel like we’ve been providing advice, evidence, and recommendations at every turn. We feel we have a responsibility and we’ve been living up to that responsibility only to be ignored,” Tung said in an interview.

Leaders of the English learners task force first brought their concerns to Skipper, along with School Committee chair Jeri Robinson, in June after reviewing a draft of the district inclusion plan, according to a September memo to School Committee members.

Linda Chen, senior deputy superintendent of academics, responded in an Oct. 12 letter to the task force, in which she said the district was committed to expanding bilingual education programs and native language access.

“We have been clear that our strategic work aims to increase native language access and instruction,” Chen said. “That said, BPS knows that language and cultural appreciation do not come only in the form of language-specific programming or by keeping students isolated from the rich cultural diversity of their peers.”

In the letter, Chen said the district’s planning and processes put students’ needs and best interests at the forefront of their work while complying with state and federal requirements and regulations. She added the district had to fall into compliance after a state review of its sheltered English immersion and multilingual programs found that they “do not meet the educational, social, and emotional needs of our students, and in their design, may harm students.”


The Justice Department, which is overseeing the federal government’s settlement with BPS, also took issue with the district’s sheltered English immersion program, Chen noted, writing in a letter last year that the district “must ensure that it does not unnecessarily segregate” English learners from their peers in violation of the agreement.

Deanna Pan can be reached at Follow her @DDpan.