Washington, D.C. (Jan. 22, 2014) — Tuesday marked the 40th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Lau v. Nichols, which expanded rights for students with Limited English Proficiency.
The 1974 landmark civil rights case was brought by Chinese American students living in San Francisco. They argued that the inability to speak English requires special education entitlements under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
For the state not to provide assistance in school was educational discrimination on the basis of national origin. The high court ruled in favor of the students, and found that the lack of linguistically appropriate accommodations effectively denies equal educational opportunities on the basis of ethnicity.
Since the decision, courts have relied on Lau for several language access cases, increasing opportunities for LEP individuals nationwide.
Members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) released the following statements to commemorate the anniversary.
“Quality education and the opportunity for upward mobility remain cornerstones of the American Dream,” said Congresswoman Judy Chu (CA-27), CAPAC Chair. “The decision in Lau v. Nichols expanded bilingual education programs, and helped immigrant students reach their full potential. After 40 years, Lau remains a profound civil rights achievement. We must continue to build on its legacy and strive for equality in all areas of public life.”
Congressman Mike Honda (CA-15), CAPAC Chair Emeritus: “The 40th Anniversary of the Lau v. Nichols Decision reminds us that while certain truths are self-evident, they are not always self-executing. It takes the participation of all citizens to protect our rights. The Lau Decision was a victory not only for those students in San Francisco who asserted their right to educational language access, but for all of us. Education is the foundation of our personal, economic, and social development. This decision has allowed millions of students to pursue the education that is their right as Americans.”
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13): “Forty years ago, the Supreme Court made history when they decided no student could be discriminated against based on their language ability. In this landmark case, Lau v. Nichols, the Court reaffirmed our commitment to all students – regardless of their heritage. Our country’s identity as a nation of immigrants sets us apart. On the 40th anniversary of Lau v. Nichols, let’s honor this legacy of celebrating diversity.”
Congressman Scott Peters (CA-52): “The Lau v. Nichols case stated that language-based discrimination has no place in America. Recognizing the importance of the LEP community, my office is working with the County of San Diego’s ‘Live Well San Diego initiative’ to help develop an emergency preparedness communication plan to ensure that all communities have access to life-saving information in an emergency. The “Emergency Preparedness Communication Plan” has a special focus on communities with limited English proficiency, which includes: Spanish, Arabic, Tagalog, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Karen, and Somali. My office has worked to offer suggestions and advice on how best to inform and educate, in particular, the Asian Pacific American community on emergency preparedness.”
Congresswoman Jackie Speier (CA-14): “Bilingual education is now a hallmark of the American public school system because of the courageousness of a single Chinese American family in San Francisco. They boldly stood up for their child who was failing miserably in school because he did not speak English. They wanted their son to have the same access to the American Dream as the other students in his class. When the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the family and nearly 1,800 other Chinese American students attending schools in the San Francisco Unified School District, it closed the door on this form of racial discrimination. As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the landmark Lau v. Nichols decision, it is now more important than ever to ensure that students of every national origin, regardless of what language they may speak, have the same access to a quality public school education.”