Monday, July 21, 2014
U.S. Backs Plaintiffs in Suit Over Opportunities for English Learners
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division filed a brief on Friday in support of a pending writ petition, arguing California education officials’ failure to address problems facing English learner students violates the Equal Educational Opportunity Act of 1974.
In a lawsuit filed in 2013, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, the Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Public Counsel, and the law firm of Latham & Watkins LLP, filed a lawsuit challenging the State of California and state educational officials’ failure to ensure that school districts provide language instruction to English learners across California.
The lawsuit names the State of California, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, the State Board of Education, and the California Department of Education as respondents.
The Plaintiffs allege that data collected by the state reflects that 251 California school districts reported that they failed to provide legally mandated instruction to English-learner students. The EEOA says that no state can deny students the right to equal education by “failure by an educational agency to take ‘appropriate action’ to overcome language barriers that impede equal participation by its students in its instructional programs”.
The Justice Department cited Lau v. Nichols (1974) 414 U.S. 563, in which students unable to speak English fluently were found to have been denied their right to equal educational opportunity under §601 of the Rights Act of 1964. The court ruled that the San Francisco Unified School District had violated the act by denying students of Chinese descent opportunities to participate in class.
The court decided that merely providing the students with the same textbooks, desks, and teachers was not sufficient and measures, such as instruction in both Chinese and English, needed to be taken to make sure that English was taught to non-English speaking students.
In the pending litigation, the plaintiffs contend Torlakson, the Department of Education, and the State Board of Education did nothing in response to reports from school districts, other than to change the reporting system to prevent districts from reporting this information in the future.
The defendants argue that the students in question make up less than 2 percent of the state’s population of English learner students. Torlakson and the other defendants “do not agree with the assertions made in the pleading,” a spokesperson said in a written statement.
“The State takes seriously its obligation to monitor and ensure the provision of services to all English Learner Students,” the statement said.
The case is scheduled for trial July 31 before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant.
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