One of North Carolina's largest school districts has pledged to end discriminatory practices against Hispanics, responding to a federal civil rights complaint filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The Hispanics making up nearly 21 percent of the 32,566 students in the Durham Public Schools perceived a "hostile environment" in the system, the SPLC said in April.

The SPLC also faulted DPS for having only three qualified interpreters to deal with Latino parents who have limited proficiency in English and for not providing Spanish translations of parental notifications and other basic documents.

The complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, likewise cited instances where teachers uttered ethnic slurs targeting Hispanics and cases of students' being asked to provide immigration documents when registering for school.

By law, public schools cannot turn away undocumented students, as the U.S. Department of Education pointed out earlier this year in a letter sent to every school district in the country.

One incident described in the SPLC's complaint involved a teacher who pushed a student against a wall and said "go back to your own country."

"This agreement is a great victory for students and parents in Durham Public Schools," the SPLC's deputy legal director, Jerri Katzerman, said Wednesday in a statement.

"It goes a long way toward ensuring that children from immigrant families and their parents have a meaningful opportunity to participate in the district's education programs," she said.

After getting the opportunity to sit down and talk with DPS, the SPLC is confident that the district's administrators will work to resolve the problems, Katzerman said.

The official DPS Web page now includes information in Spanish and district officials have held several meetings with Hispanic parents.

For Ivan Parra, coordinator of the organization DurhamCAN (Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods), the accord with DPS is "only the beginning of a long process."

"The changes we observe are positive, but at the end, what we are looking for is that the district find solutions to the low achievement and graduation rate and (high) dropout rate that Hispanics have," he told Efe Thursday.

At the same time, Parra recognized DPS Superintendant Eric J. Becoats' commitment to continue making necessary changes and noted that the Durham district has promised to deliver by next spring a set of reforms designed to boost Latinos' academic performance.

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