NEW BEDFORD — New Bedford's school district has launched a three-year plan to improve interpretation services for students and families who speak K'iche', following a review by the U.S. Department of Justice.

On Sept. 16, the DOJ and New Bedford Public Schools announced the settlement agreement, which will resolve the federal agency's investigation into the district's current services for K'iche' speakers.

K’iche' is a Mayan language of Guatemala, and is spoken by roughly one million people there — nearly 6% of the population.

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According to NBPS, there are 161 students in the district who speak K’iche' as their primary language.

The Justice Department's investigation was launched in 2020 after the federal agency received a complaint related to K’iche' speaking students and parents in New Bedford.

NBPS said the DOJ ultimately found that parts of the district's english learner programs and practices were not fully compliant with the Equal Educational Opportunities Act.

The DOJ noted in a statement that NBPS "cooperated at every stage of the investigation."

As well as agreeing to changes in practices and professional development relating to K'iche' speaking students, the district also committed to correctly identify languages spoken by students and families.

This means that school employees will not assume K’iche’ speakers are Spanish speakers based on the country they come from, according to the DOJ.

The three-year plan is designed to expand language services for K’iche' speaking families and English learner students so they have access to the same opportunities as other students.

Students and families at New Bedford schools represent 45 countries and 40 different languages, the district noted in a statement, with more than 5,000 students learning English.

Of the district's 13,000 students, 42% speak a primary language other than English.

"Like all public school districts, it is our responsibility to support students to overcome language barriers and ensure equal participation by students in all instructional programs," Superintendent Thomas Anderson stated. "This is an opportunity for us to continue to be even more effective and grow for the benefit of all our students."


"Students and families from Indigenous Maya communities often face unique barriers to accessing educational opportunities," said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

"This comprehensive agreement ensures that the district recognizes and addresses the needs of its substantial population of K’iche’-speaking students, and empowers parents to participate fully in their children’s education."


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