LOS ANGELES (April 24, 2013) — The ACLU of California, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, and the law firm of Latham & Watkins LLP filed a civil rights lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of public school students, parents, and teachers against the State of California and state education officials related to the denial of language instruction to tens of thousands of English Learner students across California, in violation of federal and state law.
The lawsuit seeks to compel the State to take action in response to widespread admissions by school districts, published on the California Department of Education website, that they are failing to provide any English Learner services to eligible students. The suit is the first of its kind in California, where one out of every four students has been identified as an English Learner.
“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,” said Jessica Price, staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. “When districts report this is happening, the state of California does absolutely nothing in response.”
The complaint filed today in Los Angeles County Superior Court documents the harm caused by the denial of English Learner services, charging that without attending to “oral and written English fluency, students cannot comprehend what happens in the classroom, let alone master the core curriculum that the state of California has mandated for all students.” For example, F.S., who wishes to remain anonymous and is one of six students who are plaintiffs in the suit, was denied English Learner services in third grade, failed most of his classes, and ultimately was retained. The next year, F.S., a student in Compton Unified School District, was provided English Learner services and finally showed progress in his classes.
“I don’t trust the school district anymore,” said a parent, A.M., who also requested anonymity. “They kept us in the dark for so long, and now they refuse to change. We have no other choice but to sue the state to get someone to make sure our children get the services they need.”
The lawsuit follows the January 23, 2013 release of a report by the ACLU of California and APALC documenting that 251 California school districts reported to California Department of Education in 2010-11 that they failed to provide legally mandated instruction to English Learner students. As detailed in the report, the 251 school districts represent more than one quarter of the districts in California that serve English Learner students, and these districts acknowledged denying services to 20,318 English Learner students.
“English Learners have valuable and diverse contributions to make in their classrooms and communities,” said Nicole Ochi, staff attorney for APALC. “Yet many of them are unable to do so because the State fails to ensure that English Learner students are provided the tools necessary to learn English and access the full curriculum.”
When the report was released, the ACLU of CA, APALC, and Latham & Watkins LLP also sent a letter to Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and the State Board of Education advising them that the State’s inaction in the face of this crisis violated its duties under federal and state law. After more than three months, state education officials have not committed to any concrete plan of action to ensure that English Learner students receive legally mandated services, prompting today’s suit.
“While the state takes hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government and represents that, in fact, every English Learner student does receive such English Learner services, their conduct has been the opposite,” said Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel for the ACLU/SC.
“There is a clear problem when 251 school districts in our state report that they are not providing academic services to some, or all, English Learners. It is difficult to fathom how this is possible when these same districts are sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars meant to help English Learners,” said Senator Alex Padilla. “It should not take a lawsuit to compel the State and our school districts to comply with state law. We have a legal and moral responsibility to educate California’s 1.5 million English Learners,” Padilla added.
The lawsuit, which names the State of California, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, the State Board of Education, and the California Department of Education as defendants, is D.J. v. State of California.