Report Alleges Discrimination Against ELLs in Louisiana

The Southern Poverty Law Center broadened its federal complaint against the Jefferson Parish Public School System in Louisiana regarding the district’s treatment of Latino immigrant families this week.

The SPLC alleges that the school district is inadequately serving its students who are English Language Learners. The newest charges come after the organization alleged in a complaint last August that Spanish-speaking Hispanic parents were not being provided proper translation services.

The Times-Picayune reports the SPLC alleges that the school system has only 81 ESL-certified teachers serving 3,300 ELLs. The complaint also says that ELL students are exited from ESL services based on their speaking ability and not their writing and reading skills–setting them up for failure in mainstream classes.

In addition, the report is critical of the district clustering ESL educators at certain schools.

“Because of the improper allocation of resources, the ESL program in JPPSS is understaffed,” the report states. “There are not enough ESL-certified teachers to properly carry out the ESL curriculum and effectively teach ELL students English so that they can succeed in school.”

The complaint also details the experiences of specific students: a high school sophomore who reported that teachers felt bilingual paraprofessionals were a distraction to their teaching, so asked them not to help students until they were done teaching. Other students felt they struggled in math without language assistance.

The SPLC has repeatedly filed complaints against the school system with the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education, having previously raised concerns about the district’s treatment of black students.

The newspaper reported that the district declined to comment on the newest complaint.

I wonder how common similar challenges are across the country–particularly in areas of the South that have not traditionally had substantial Latino, and immigrant, populations.

Related Links:

– “Report alleges Jefferson Parish schools discrimination against ESL students,” The Times-Picayune.

– SPLC new complaint text

– Southern Poverty Law Center Immigrant Justice

– “SPLC Files Civil Rights Complaint Against Louisiana District,” Latino Ed Beat.

DOJ to Investigate Alleged Discrimination in Louisiana Schools

The U.S. Department of Justice has announced that it will investigate claims of mistreatment of Latino students in the Jefferson Parish Public Schools in Louisiana. The move comes on the heels of a complaint filed in August by the Southern Poverty Law Center, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

The center has alleged that the district did not offer adequate translation services to Spanish-speaking parents and that district administrators did nothing to stop the bullying of Hispanic students. The center also alleges that Hispanic students were told they could not graduate without proof of Social Security numbers.

Since the initial complaint was filed, the district began offering Spanish language courses to principals and encouraged hiring bilingual teachers.

About 17 percent of the district’s 46,000 students are Hispanic. The law center has also previously filed complaints against the district for its treatment of black students and special education students.

The SPLC has also previously filed similar complaints against the Wake County Public Schools and Durham Public Schools in North Carolina.

Related Links:

-“Department of Justice to further investigate discrimination claims in Jefferson Parish Schools.” New Orleans Times-Picayune. 

– “SPLC files civil rights complaint against Louisiana District.” Latino Ed Beat.

Southern Poverty Law Center.

North Carolina District Accused of Discriminating Against Spanish-Speaking Families

Two groups charge that the Wake County Public School System in North Carolina has violated the civil rights of Spanish-speaking parents by providing important notices regarding their children only in English.

The Southern Poverty Law Center and Advocates for Children’s Services sent a letter of complaint on Tuesday to school superintendent Tony Tata, reports The News & Observer.

The groups say that three parents did not receive information in Spanish about suspensions and special-education. According to the groups, the parents also did not receive written notice about meetings related to the special education process, or information about their children’s Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). Parents also were not given notices about long-term suspensions and information about how to appeal a decision or pursue alternative education programs, the groups say.

“Despite the presence of a large Spanish-speaking community in the district and the important rights at stake during the special education and discipline processes, WCPSS has failed to develop and implement a system by which written documents are routinely translated and provided to LEP (limited English proficient) parents,” the letter said.

The groups noted that Spanish-language information can increase parent involvement and improve students’ academic performance.

However, the school district’s web site includes a Spanish-language section that has information such as a back to school guide, along with pages about the schools’ before- and after-school programs and vaccine information. In a statement, the superintendent said that the district has been proactive in supporting the needs of Spanish-speaking families through community and media partners.

The  groups requested a number of changes, including that a Spanish-speaking employee be dedicated to work on discipline matters, that a web site be developed in Spanish and that parents are provided information about suspensions and special education in Spanish.

Latino students currently make up about 15  percent of the school system’s 146,000 students. In the district, there are about 11,040 (7.5 percent) classified as limited English proficient and 5,913 (4 percent) students participating in English as a second language courses.

The Southern Poverty Law Center also filed a civil rights complaint last year against the Durham Public Schools in North Carolina accusing the system of discriminating against English language learners and their parents.

The district eventually reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education pledging to make a number of changes, including making interpreters available to parents and creating a communication plan for Spanish-speaking parents.

It appears that the SPLC is on the lookout for districts that don’t appear to provide sufficient Spanish-language services. In your own district, are there interpreters on staff? Do your schools use bilingual staff to translate in person and in documents?

You can read the letter of complaint against Wake County here.