ACLU Files Lawsuit Against State Of California For Neglecting 20,000 Non-English Speaking Students

| by Jonathan Wolfe
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The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the state of California.

According to the lawsuit, around 20,000 non-English speaking students in California are not receiving adequate English instruction. Under both federal and California state law, public schools are required to teach all non-English speaking students the language. The lawsuit details the struggles of many in the state whom have failed classes or been held back in school due to a lack of English instruction.

“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, a staff attorney with the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.

The lawsuit is based on information reported by over 250 California school districts that acknowledges they are providing few or no ESL services to students. Price says that even in the face of the law “the state of California does absolutely nothing.”

The lawsuit is being filed on behalf of six students and their guardians as well as one former California public school teacher. The students will remain anonymous for now due to fears of possible retaliation from school systems. The teacher, Walt Dunlap, is a former Oxnard Union High School District teacher who worked with ESL students and criticized the districts programs for them.

The lawsuit contains several personal stories of students struggling due to the lack of English instruction. One mother had both of her children, an 8-year-old and a 10-year-old, held back a year in school immediately after they stopped being provided English instruction. Another student from the Compton Unified School District was denied language help in third grade and subsequently failed all of his classes. The following year he was provided English instruction and began progressing in his classes.

California state officials say that although they have not reviewed the lawsuit, they are confident that they are meeting all legal requirements. Chief Deputy Superintendant of Public Instruction Richard Zeiger said the department “determined to ensure that all English learner students receive appropriate instruction and services.”

“When questions arose," Zeiger said the department "asked local educational agencies to provide additional information regarding the services they are required to provide." Officials also pointed out that 98% of the state’s 1.4 million non-English speakers are receiving adequate instruction. Zeiger encouraged any concerned parents to file a complaint through the states complaint system.

The lawsuit is seeking a court order for schools to provide English instruction to all who need it as well as reimbursement of all attorney fees. 

Sources: Oregon Live, LA Times, USA Today