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Hazleton responds to lawsuit over Hispanic representation on school board

Hazleton Area High School.
Aimee Dilger
Hazleton Area High School

The Hazleton Area School District has responded to a lawsuit filed earlier this week that challenges how voters elect school board members.

A Scranton attorney and the UCLA Voting Rights Project filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of two Hispanic mothers in Hazleton. They’re seeking Hispanic representation on the school board for the first time.

In a statement to WVIA, the school board and superintendent defended how they have met the challenges of increasing and more diverse enrollment.

Enrollment has grown by nearly 2,000 students since 2017. Of the 13,200 students, 3,500 receive English as a second language services. The district has 104 Hispanic employees.
Superintendent Brian Uplinger called the district’s success indisputable.

“Few school districts in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have met the challenges of diversity, equity and inclusion in the face of explosive student population growth and dramatic demographic shifts as well as the Hazleton Area School District,” the statement read.

School board members are now elected through an at-large model, meaning that all voters select the candidates for all nine seats. The plaintiffs say that if board members were elected by region instead, the district could have more diverse representation on the board.

In the statement, which does not address the lawsuit specifically, the board and superintendent highlight the employment of 55 ESL teachers and 20 bilingual paraprofessionals who help students. The district opened a Newcomer Center for students in kindergarten through sixth grade and has a bilingual community liaison to help with the student registration process.

The district also has a communication system that translates information to a student’s native language, and “the district’s inclusionary policies extend well beyond students to their families with our establishment of ESL classes for parents as well as Spanish classes for every district employee,” according to the statement.

“The members of the board and the members of the administration of the Hazleton Area School District understand that in the imperfect science of education more work will always remain to be done, but we are very proud of the significant accomplishments achieved by our students, families and staff who have worked together to make the Hazleton Area School District one of the most diverse, equitable and inclusive institutions of education in Pennsylvania,” the statement concludes.

Sarah Hofius Hall worked at The Times-Tribune in Scranton since 2006. For nearly all of that time, Hall covered education, visiting the region's classrooms and reporting on issues important to students, teachers, families and taxpayers.

You can email Sarah at sarahhall@wvia.org
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