School District Agrees to Ensure Equal Opportunity for English Learners

Major civil rights organizations have reached a settlement agreement with the Dinuba Unified School District (DUSD) to ensure that young English learners have an equal chance to succeed. The agreement, which was finalized at a school board meeting last week, comes as the result of a lawsuit filed in May by Dinuba parents and teachers. The plaintiffs are represented by the ACLU of Northern California, the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, the ACLU of Southern California, California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc., the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC), and the law firm of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.

“I’m pleased the district is going to make sure all our kids have the same opportunities for the education they deserve,” said plaintiff Annie Ogata, a teacher in the district who also has children in the Dinuba schools.

“For young children, learning to read is the foundation for life-long learning,” said plaintiff Nona Rhea, teacher of the year at Dinuba’s Roosevelt Elementary.  “I am so thankful this agreement will insure every student has the opportunity to learn to read with their classmates.”

The lawsuit asked the school district to stop using a program called Second Language Acquisition Development Instruction (SLADI), implemented in 2009, to teach reading to first and second grade English learners.  The lawsuit alleged that SLADI was a fundamentally flawed and unproven method of teaching English.

“This settlement is a model for other districts to follow in making sure they are living up to their obligations to provide equal educational opportunities to their students learning English,” said David Loy, legal director of the San Diego ACLU.

“With California’s schools enrolling one of every three English Learner (EL) students in the U.S. and having more EL students than the next six states combined, this historic settlement demonstrates that the American dream is the province of all schoolchildren, no matter their native language,” said Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel for the ACLU of Southern California.  “The rapid and successful resolution evidences that the children of Dinuba are well served by a committed superintendent and his teaching staff who insisted that that this case be settled not in a courtroom, but by providing sound and tested curricula for learning English.”

Under the agreement, the district will stop using SLADI and will implement a new program for young English learners beginning in the current school year. The district also will create two programs to remedy the past year’s deficiencies: an after-school program for the young students who were denied reading instruction under SLADI, to help catch them up to their peers and an additional summer school program , both at no cost to families of these students. As part of the settlement, the district will work with mutually agreed-upon education experts to determine and implement an English learner program that meets the needs of students and complies with state law.

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