Lewiston's schools have signed an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to address alleged discrimination affecting its English as a second language program and students with disabilities. Credit: Courtesy of Lewiston Public Schools

The Lewiston Public Schools on Thursday signed a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice over discrimination in its English as a second language program and shortened school days for students with behavorial issues due to disabilities.

The district agreed to take appropriate action to overcome language barriers that impede students’ equal participation in instructional programs and to take steps to change its instructional approach in dealing with students with disabilities.

The district must send periodic reports on its progress in meeting the goals outlined in the 25-page agreement to the Justice Department for the next three years.

Superintendent K. Jake Langlais said in a letter posted Thursday on the district’s website that the agreement would bring “student instructional support to a new level.” He also said that the district made strides in programming before the agreement.

Langlais has been superintendent since the summer of 2019. Prior to that, he was principal at Lewiston High School.

“We have nested special education programs for students with autism, functional life skills, and day treatment settings,” Langlais said of the steps that have already been taken to remedy problems identified in the investigation that led to the settlement. “We have changed a number of practices, instructional approaches with abbreviated days, and language learners that have been cited by others as model programs.

“We have adopted and built in professional learning that will benefit all our students, continue to grow in social emotional/restorative practices, and in our budget process we grew the number of staff and professional learning opportunities to improve reading, language skills, and comprehension that will better serve all our students,” Langlais said in the letter.

Lewiston voters on Tuesday approved a $92.2 million school budget by a vote of 340-232, according to the Sun Journal. The Lewiston City Council rejected a proposed $95.7 million budget.

The approved budget includes funds to pay for the changes to programming outlined in the settlement agreement.

The Justice Department’s investigation was initiated by a complaint from Disability Rights Maine, an Augusta-based advocacy group.