The Stamford public school system has agreed to provide better language programs for non-English-speaking students as part of a civil settlement agreement with the federal government.

The agreement avoided a potential lawsuit against the district by the government after the U.S. Justice Department began investigating the district for violating the Equal Educational Opportunities Act.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Connecticut, the settlement requires the district to provide language services and other support to the more than 2,000 English Language Learner (ELL) students enrolled in the district’s 20 schools.

“By entering into this agreement, the Stamford public school system has reaffirmed its mission to provide all of our children with the equal opportunity to become productive citizens, regardless of their proficiency in English,” acting U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly said in a statement. “This settlement agreement creates a roadmap for all Connecticut schools that provides a comprehensive plan to effectively serve all students who are not yet proficient in English. We thank Stamford for working with the Justice Department to achieve this positive and hopeful result.”

About 2,000 of Stamford’s 16,000 students are in the ELL program. The program came under fire after federal investigators, responding to a complaint, found, among other things, that the district was using uncertified teachers, was failing to test students in a timely manner and did not always provide proper instructional materials. ELL students have typically done far worse than their Stamford peers on standardized tests.

The agreement requires the district to implement a wide range of measures to ensure that ELL students have equal opportunities to succeed academically, beginning with the proper identification and placement of ELL students when they initially enroll in the system.

The district must also provide language learning services to all ELL students until they reach the state’s English proficiency criteria; ensure that teachers of ELL students are qualified to provide these services; obtain adequate learning materials for ELL students; monitor students after they exit ELL services to ensure they are participating meaningfully and equally in general education classes; and make appropriate language services available for ELL students with disabilities.

According to court documents, all teachers, principals and assistant principals must complete 20 hours of “intensive training” on working with ELL students over a three-year period. Fifteen of those 20 hours will consist of training conducted by a professional team from Southern Connecticut State University. The additional five hours will consist of in-classroom coaching, as teachers begin applying strategies and techniques learned in the training. Training will be adjusted as necessary based on feedback the teachers are provided by the training instructors.

The district each year will now have to provide the federal government with reports detailing their efforts to comply with the provisions of the settlement agreement.

Andreana Bellach, of Shipman & Goodwin, represented the Stamford school system in this case. Bellach did not return repeated messages for comment.

But Stamford Superintendent Winifred Hamilton told the Stamford Advocate that there has been a change in leadership in the district since the time of the complaint, and the district is eager to implement the changes. “It was about good educational practices,” she said of the agreement. The district currently has 75 educators who are considered “Teachers of English as a Second Language.” Hamilton said more will be added, along with paraprofessionals to assist them.•