Latino groups ask Biden team to push back English-language testing amid Covid concerns

“We must do everything possible to protect students' health and not expose them unnecessarily to Covid-19,” said Sindy Benavides, LULAC's chief executive.

Guatemalan immigrants attend an English as a Second Language class in 2016 at a migrants' assistance center in Stamford, Conn.John Moore / Getty Images file

Several national Latino education and civil rights groups are asking President-elect Joe Biden to push back in-person proficiency tests for students learning English as a second language amid Covid-19 concerns.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and other groups sent a letter to Biden's education transition team on Monday, saying that in-person assessments can impose health risks for English-language learners, or ELLS.

The concern comes after over 30 states have set windows to test such students’ English proficiency, starting as early as Jan. 4. With over 3.8 Latino ELLS in public schools, it’s a worry that affects a demographic three times more likely to become infected with the coronavirus.

“No student should be forced to choose between their health and well-being, or taking a test that will determine their proficiency in learning the English language, especially during an unprecedented pandemic,” David Hinojosa, director of the Educational Opportunities Project at the lawyers’ committee, wrote. “These tests can wait.”

The letter requested guidance for state and local education agencies on providing “an opt-out protocol” for ELLS who can’t safely take the WIDA Access test, given annually to track their progress in learning English, and to ensure that those who do so will not suffer consequences.

The groups also request for the tests to be postponed to the 2021-22 school year, if necessary.

Miguel Cardona, Connecticut’s first Latino commissioner of education, was recently nominated by Biden to be his secretary of education. Cardona has said he spoke only Spanish when he first attended public schools in Connecticut, after his Puerto Rican parents moved to the U.S. mainland from the island.

If confirmed by the Senate, Cardona would oversee the re-opening of the nation’s public schools — a plan Biden has pledged to do within his first 100 days in office. Cardona has promised to tackle the transition amid the pandemic.

The coronavirus has disproportionately affected Latinos and led to a high percent of the nation’s Covid-19 deaths, killing more than 54,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With over 5 million identified English-language learners in the country, the letter says “students and their families should not be forced into schools and expose themselves to unnecessary risks during these unprecedented times.”

“Throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico, Covid-19 is ravaging our communities while parents are struggling to make ends meet. We must do everything possible to protect students' health and not expose them unnecessarily to Covid-19,” Sindy Benavides, LULAC's chief executive, said in the news release.

The Biden transition team did not comment on the groups' request, but reiterated the incoming administration's plans to tackle the educational issues around the pandemic, including forming a White House initiative to identify learning gaps and implement recommendations "on an accelerated time frame."

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