Indianapolis Public Schools expands ‘language justice’

IPS will establish a language justice taskforce this month.
High school girl thinking in class
Photo: Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for EDUimages
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(The Center Square) – Indianapolis Public Schools changed its language justice policy to address an increase in English-learner students over the past five years.

IPS will establish a language justice taskforce this month after board proposal 2713 is approved, according to a recent board presentation. The task force will build a team of translators and interpreters, organize translation services, educate staff on language justice, work with human resources to hire bilingual staff and provide students with classroom support. 

IPS has seen a 20% increase in English as a new language, or ENL, students since 2018, enrolling more than 6,000 ENL students this school year. More than 33% of Indianapolis students are non-English speakers, according to district language data.

The district defined language justice as “the practice of ensuring people can communicate effectively, understand information, and be understood using the language in which they feel most comfortable.”

IPS aims to respect the cultural experiences of students and ensure students who are not native English speakers can fully participate in the school system, according to the board proposal. 

Language justice “actively challenges the idea that there is a dominant language because multiple languages can coexist within our society,” according to the board’s definition. 

The majority of Indianapolis ENL students are native Spanish speakers. More than 90% of ENL students speak Spanish, while 2.3% are fluent in Creole, 1.2% speak Swahili, and 0.7% speak Arabic. Other languages include French, Burmese, Portuguese, Yoruba and several others. 

The taskforce, composed of classified staff, school leaders, teachers, families, students and community partners, will establish administrative guidelines regarding language justice. The guidelines will “provide detailed descriptions of procedures” and “direct specific actions to achieve stated objectives.” 

The policy requires the IPS superintendent regularly update the board on progress toward expanding language justice.

“The Board of School Commissioners (Board) is committed to creating an IPS community where student outcomes cannot be predicted by race, ethnicity, or language diversity,” the board’s general policy statement said.

The district currently employs ENL community liaisons, more than 50 bilingual assistants, more than 90 ENL teachers and ENL college and career coordinators.

Elizabeth Troutman
Elizabeth Troutman is a contributor for The Center Square.

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