Jul 12, 2022 - News

Denver's bilingual education programs threatened by school closures

Kalyah Rodriguez rallies with her mother, Edlyn Rodriguez, to keep a bilingual program.

Kalyah Rodriguez rallies with her mother, Edlyn Rodriguez, to keep a bilingual program. Her sign says "Ser Bilingüe Es Mi Superpoder," which means "Being Bilingual is my Superpower." Photo: Melanie Asmar/Chalkbeat

Denver's court-mandated bilingual education for Spanish-speaking students is facing significant threats because of declining enrollment and school closures.

Why it matters: A federal court order, most recently amended in 2013, requires that the district offer educational lessons in Spanish as a way to represent the culture and history of the students.

  • Research indicates that bilingual education is effective at teaching students to build core academic skills in Spanish and English, and transition to learning more English over time.

Threat level: Every school with at least 60 English-learning students who speak Spanish must offer the program. But existing programs are losing students as high housing costs and falling birth rates reduce enrollment in historically Latino neighborhoods.

  • 15 of the 27 Denver schools listed for possible closure offer bilingual education known as transitional native language instruction, or TNLI.
  • That's nearly a quarter of all the district's bilingual classrooms, our education reporting partners at Chalkbeat write.

Of note: Earlier this year, the district threatened to shutter four small bilingual programs at elementary schools before backing down.

What they're saying: "We are very sad by the fact that declining enrollment is impacting our bilingual schools," said Nadia Madan Morrow, a former bilingual teacher who is now the district's chief academic officer. "We're working hard to figure out how to deliver native language instruction in schools that are continually shrinking."


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Denver.

More Denver stories