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Civil Rights Groups Sue CDE for Refusal to Identify Number of Students Struggling to Learn English

September 3, 2015

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (LCCR) and Public Counsel filed suit on August 10 in Sacramento County Superior Court challenging the California Department of Education’s (CDE) refusal to disclose the number of long-term English learners in California public schools.

State law requires CDE to count how many long-term English learners are enrolled in each California public school and to report that number to local school districts. Twice this year, the San Francisco-based LCCR and Public Counsel requested the most recent reports for several Bay Area and Southern California school districts, including the nation’s second-largest school district, Los Angeles Unified School District. On the first occasion, CDE refused to provide the information. CDE simply ignored the second request. Both actions violate state law. California’s Public Records Act requires CDE to provide this information to the public upon request.

“CDE’s refusal to provide this information is inexcusable,” said Travis Silva, Equal Justice Works Fellow at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. “No state agency is above the law and CDE must release this data into the public domain immediately.”

“For over forty years, California’s Public Records Act has increased transparency in state and local government,” said Thomas R. Burke, partner at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP in San Francisco. “The California Department of Education has failed the test of transparency by unlawfully withholding from the public this valuable data on the number of long-term English learners.” Davis Wright Tremaine LLP is representing LCCR and Public Counsel pro bono.

Parent groups use this data to monitor their school districts’ English Language Development programs. “These data are vital to parents deciding which English programs are right for their children,” said Gabriella Barbosa, Equal Justice Works Fellow at Public Counsel in Los Angeles. “We share these data with parent leaders to help them monitor district programs. Without it, parents and community members are unable to evaluate which English programs work and which ones are failing.” LCCR and Public Counsel regularly work with parent and community groups to evaluate the quality of English Language Development programs throughout California.

Long-term English learners are students whose primary language is not English, have been enrolled in U.S. schools for more than six years, but lack enough proficiency in English to participate in the mainstream curriculum without language support. Many have spent more than six years in California’s English Language Development program without gaining English proficiency. California is home to more students learning English than any other state, serving over 1.3 million English learners during the 2014-2015 school year.

The case is LCCR et al. v. California Department of Education, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court on August 10, 2015. A copy of the writ petition is available here.

Source:  Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of San Francisco

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