ACLU suit charges California Dep’t of ED is failing to provide English learning students with assistance

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), along with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center and the law firm of Latham & Watkins, has filed suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court, says the Los Angeles Times, against the California Department of Education (CDE) alleging CDE has ignored its obligation to make sure that thousands of students learning English receive adequate and legally required assistance.  The suit focuses on an estimated 20,000 students who are receiving no help or inadequate services as they work to learn English and keep up academically at the same time.

According to Jessica Price, staff attorney with the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, “It is a blatant violation of the law not to provide these students the most basic and essential component of their education — language to access their classes.”  She noted that advocates based their conclusions on information that school districts report to the state Department of Education.  She added that about 250 districts acknowledge they are providing no services or inappropriate language help to these students, and yet “the state of California does absolutely nothing in response.”

The suit was filed on behalf of six students and their guardians. They are remaining anonymous out of concern over possible retaliation from their local school systems, attorneys said.  Also suing is Walt Dunlop, a former Oxnard Union High School District teacher who has worked with English learners and criticized his district’s programs for them.

Although federal and state funds are set aside to help English learners, the best approach has long been a topic of contention.  Programs that offer the teaching of academic subjects in a foreign language have become more rare. It’s more common for English-speaking teachers to receive training in how to make their lessons more accessible.  And students can also receive support in classes taught in English.  The ACLU’s Mark Rosenbaum said it was outrageous that so many students received no help at all.

A state official insisted California was not shirking its obligations.  The education department is “determined to ensure that all English-learner students receive appropriate instruction and services,” said Chief Deputy Supt. of Public Instruction Richard Zeiger.  “When questions arose,” he added, the department “asked local educational agencies to provide additional information regarding the services they are required to provide.”  Zeiger also urged parents with specific issues to contact the department though its established complaint process.

In an earlier round of litigation, advocates targeted Dinuba Unified as well as the state.  Dinuba settled the suit, setting the stage for the current legal action targeting the state.

Source: Los Angeles Times, 4/24/13, By Howard Blume

[Editor's Note: In June 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article in  the Los Angeles Times reporting that the ACLU et al were suing Dinuba Unified School District (DUSD) and the California Department of Education (CDE) alleging that state officials are neglecting their legal obligation to ensure that students who are learning English are receiving an adequate and equal education. The suit, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court, charged DUSD uses a substandard curriculum to improve the lagging performance of students who have yet to master English.

Although the suit focuses on DUSD’s English language learner (ELL) curriculum, the suit accuses CDE of poor oversight and says CDE must, by law, act to make sure these students are keeping pace academically with their peers across California.  According to the suit, for the last three years, children in DUSD “have been subjected to a program … that lacks sound educational support [and] contradicts bedrock principles of how children learn language.”]

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