Landmark Civil Rights Settlement Affirms Schools Provide English Language Instruction

LOS ANGELES – A coalition of civil rights groups announced today the settlement of a landmark case brought against the State of California and state education officials on behalf of hundreds of thousands of English learner students denied constitutionally mandated instruction in the acquisition of English fluency skills.

Under the settlement, state education officials have agreed to establish a watchdog process to ensure that all school districts provide English language instruction to English learners, as required by law. Such instruction enables English learners to overcome language barriers so they can access core classes like math and science, and greatly increases the likelihood of testing at grade level by middle and high school. Those students who receive no services are among the lowest-performing and are more likely to drop out of school. More than 1.4 million children—a quarter of all California’s public school students—are designated as English learners, and they are more likely to be people of color and economically disadvantaged.

Parents, students and a former administrator brought the lawsuit, D.J. et al v. State of California et al, in April 2013 to ensure that students with a native language other than English receive specialized English Language instructional services. They are represented by the ACLU, Public Counsel, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles and Latham & Watkins LLP.

In early 2013, the ACLU of California released a report detailing the widespread failure of more than 250 school districts across the state to provide adequate English instruction to English learner students, with more than 20,000 students identified as receiving no English language instructional services at all. In spite of that report, the state failed to take the necessary steps to ensure that districts deliver the required services.

Last year, a state judge found state officials were failing to live up to their duties to ensure the delivery of meaningful education support to thousands of the state’s English learners across the state. The filing of the suit also prompted an investigation into state practices regarding English learners by the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice.

“This settlement is an important reminder of the indispensable role that the state plays in ensuring that California’s students receive the equal educational opportunity promised to them by our Constitution,” said Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. “We are pleased that state officials ultimately decided to work with us to create a meaningful backstop that will protect English learners when school districts are unwilling or unable to deliver educational services required by state and federal law.”

“For the first time in California history, all English Learners will learn English,” said Mark Rosenbaum, directing attorney of Public Counsel’s Opportunity Under Law Initiative, who successfully argued the case before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant. “The settlement creates a state watchdog system to monitor district compliance with its directive that all English learners, one quarter of the state’s student population, gain access to instructional services in English. This agreement translates to ‘educational opportunity’ in all languages.”

The agreement also requires the California Department of Education to make clear that the failure to provide English-learners the necessary language instructional service is a violation of state law; to follow-up in writing with every district that reported a failure to provide the services; and to publicly post data. Additionally, the state will be required to launch on-site reviews of districts that report problems.

“We are pleased that through this lawsuit, the State has agreed to better monitor whether English learners are receiving constitutionally mandated instructional services. More than 100,000 of the State’s Asian origin students are English learners, and they together with other diverse students, are assets to their schools and communities, and are entitled to high-quality English language instruction to maximize their potential,” said Laboni Hoq, litigation director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice. “We hope that this settlement provides one more tool in the arsenal for English learner parents, students, teachers, and advocates who have been working tirelessly to provide those students with basic educational opportunities.”

“English learners are the fastest-growing student demographic in the U.S., so it is critical that the State ensure that they receive the support they need to be successful in school,” said Susan S. Azad, partner, Latham & Watkins LLP. “They are the country’s future workforce, taxpayers, voters, and leaders whose educational pathways will shape the economy of California and the nation moving forward.”

More information about D.J. v. State of California can be found here.

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