Boston Public Schools administrator says she was kicked out for raising concerns about how English learners are taught
The dispute threatens to bring scrutiny of the district by the US Department of Justice, which oversees a legal agreement that requires BPS to provide a number of specialized services by trained educators. Narang Kapur has since sent a letter to Justice Department officials alleging the district retaliated against her because she said the BPS was not following certain aspects of the DOJ agreement.
The Justice Department and the DOJ attorney who signed the 2010 and 2012 agreements with BPS did not respond to requests for comment.
The dispute comes as Boston battles with education officials in Massachusetts over a possible takeover of the district. On May 23, the state issued a scathing review citing the “continued leadership instability” of the BPS and pointedly noted that English language learners are not get the proper instruction.
“There are still hundreds of [English learners] are still not receiving their federally authorized services,” Massachusetts Education Commissioner Jeff Riley told members of the state Board of Education last Tuesday. “We have to do better.”
The dispute also reveals some of the internal battles in a school administration ravaged by the turnover of its senior leaders.
“The BPS disputes Ms. Narang Kapur’s statement that she was a whistleblower or that the BPS took retaliatory action against her,” Gabrielle Farrell, district communications officer, said in a statement.
Appointed to her position as Deputy Superintendent in November, Narang Kapur hadn’t started working when she became concerned that mid-level immigrant students weren’t getting the proper services. She said she raised the issue at least four more times, before being furloughed in December after less than four weeks on the job.
At the time, she was the fifth person to lead the troubled English Learners Office since Brenda Cassellius became superintendent nearly three years ago. Much of the work involves adhering to a federal agreement outlining the services English learners should receive, down to the total number of instructional minutes.
The Department of Justice has been monitoring the school system‘s services to English learners since 2010, after federal and state investigators found the district was not properly identifying English learners and school leaders were encouraging parents to refuse the special lessons to which their children were entitled for lack of space. .
Just before she officially took office, a task force of advocates, parents and educators who advise the school committee on educating English learners had complained to Cassellius about a change in policy. aimed at moving some intermediate level English learners from small specialist classes to general education. A total of 227 of the 381 middle-level English learners have moved to regular classes, according to the district.
“We are concerned that what is described may constitute ‘dumping’ of students into general education,” the task force wrote in a Nov. 5 letter. “General education is not the appropriate setting for” Level 3 English learners.
Narang Kapur agreed with the task force and raised the issue with his supervisor a week before starting, on his first day on the job, and then at least three more times, according to Narang Kapur. She said she felt rejected by her supervisors. (Narang Kapur would not appoint his supervisors for fear of further reprisals and that it would affect his ability to find work in other districts.)
Since his resignation last month, Narang Kapur has raised his concerns with the Ministry of Justice.
“The administrators perceived me as a whistleblower who could potentially cause problems for the BPS,” Narang Kapur wrote in a May 17 letter to the Justice Department that she provided to The Globe. “The actions the BPS has taken for its own benefit as an organization rather than for students, families and teachers should be carefully considered.”
For long-time observers of the district’s practices on English learners, Narang Kapur’s allegations of retaliation point to a trend.
“If this is true, it fits with our long-term concern that despite all the rhetoric, the practice is to reject English language learners in mainstream education,” said John Mudd, a district watchdog and member of the school committee’s English language. learner working group.
Narang Kapur also argued that under the DOJ agreement and a state law, the district was required to obtain parental consent before removing their children from special classes.
“Without transparency, communication and honesty, we cannot build trust with families and teachers,” Narang Kapur said in an interview.
It’s unclear whether the district has notified all parents of the change to their children’s education. The district recommended communicating the change to parents, but in a proposed template letter to principals to send to parents, district leaders incorrectly stated the terms set out in the DOJ agreement. It is unclear if any school leaders used this letter.
“Our agreement with the Ministry of Justice stipulates that [level 3 English learners] students should not remain in protected English immersion classes for longer than one year,” the district wrote. “We apologize for the late notice and the inconvenience of changing teachers and classrooms after classes have started, but we believe your students will benefit from receiving services tailored to their language development” , reads the sample letter.
A district-wide memo sent to educators in September also incorrectly attributes the move to general education classes to the DOJ agreement.
However, the DOJ agreement states that middle-level students should not be grouped in classes with students with less proficiency in English as a second language for more than one academic year. It does not say that middle school students must take general education courses. (An alternative that would meet DOJ criteria would be to create ESL classes for these middle-level students.)
Narang Kapur was put on leave on December 11, two days before attending an introductory meeting with the Ministry of Justice.
While she said her plea caused her supervisors to furlough her, the district accused her of violating conflict of interest laws. more than two computers donated by a former business associate, according to his attorney.
When Narang Kapur was preparing to start her job, she learned that two new employees would not have what she considered adequate computers. So Narang Kapur contacted people she knew for help.
“That’s what educators do…when they don’t have the resources,” said Narang Kapur. “I’m just that person who asks everyone ‘for help.
His former business partner, Julia Finkelstein, has agreed to donate two computers. Narang Kapur said she got the go-ahead from the purchasing manager at her former BPS department — where she still worked at the time — and was told to follow district protocols for technology donations.
Narang Kapur had sold in 2019 Telescope Education, the company she had founded with Finkelstein three years earlier. After Narang Kapur left the company, Finkelstein, who lives in Atlanta, began selling his teacher certification training program directly to BPS in 2019.
Narang Kapur said she had not yet filed a report regarding the computers when the BPS IT manager informed her that she had not followed the procedure correctly. She offered to return the computers, which she did.
A few days later, Narang Kapur was put on leave.
“I was just trying to solve problems,” she said. “You can’t do something and change a system unless you unpack it and expose it. I want the system to improve. I want what is best for students, families and teachers.
Bianca Vázquez Toness can be contacted at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @biancavtoness.