LOS ANGELES – The Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC), ACLU of California, and the law firm of Latham & Watkins LLP today warned state education officials of possible litigation if they do not act immediately to provide essential language instruction to thousands of underserved English learner (EL) students, as required by state and federal law. The organizations have sent a demand letter to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and members of the State Board of Education urging them to fulfill their statutory and constitutional duties by taking specific steps detailed in a report the organizations also released today. The organizations have requested a response from State Superintendent Torlakson and the State Board of Education within 30 days.
As detailed in the report, the California Department of Education itself posts data on its website revealing that 20,318 EL students across 251 school districts – more than a quarter of California districts that have EL students enrolled – receive no instructional services at all, yet the state has taken no steps to ensure that districts deliver these services. This inaction effectively denies these EL students equal educational opportunity, with the predictable results that they fall far below age and grade academic proficiency levels and drop out at disproportionately high levels.
The widespread denial of services to ELs necessarily impacts Asian American communities. In California, more than 100,000 students of Asian origin are ELs and Asian languages account for four of the top five home languages used by ELs, including Vietnamese, Cantonese, Tagalog, and Hmong. Research by the groups revealed that districts with significant Asian American populations failed to provide English language services to their ELs, including Alum Rock Union Elementary School District in San Jose, Cupertino Unified School District, Fremont Union High School District, San Gabriel Unified School District, and Twin Rivers Unified School District in Sacramento.
“In California, children from diverse backgrounds and districts are deprived of the foundational language skills necessary to succeed in school and life,” said Nicole Ochi, staff attorney with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. “Until California meets its obligation to ensure that all EL children are given the tools they need to overcome language barriers and participate in the classroom on equal footing as native English speakers, we will continue to squander our most valuable state resources—our children—and condemn our most vulnerable students to academic failure and social isolation.”
In conjunction with the release of the letter and report, the ACLU and APALC are launching an active public education campaign using social media, television and radio venues to educate parents and students about the importance of receiving appropriate services and how to advocate for their rights. In many cases, parents may not even know that their child has been designated EL because they have not received information about their child’s designation in a language they can understand, as required by state law. Parents and students interested in learning more about any of these issues, including how to receive information including translated materials from their local school district may call the following ACLU/APALC EL hotline numbers:
More information and a copy of the letter and the report are available at www.apalc.org: