More than 20,000 students whose first language isn’t English are not getting proper instruction according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which threatened California education officials with a lawsuit Wednesday.
Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel of the ACLU of Southern California, said 251 school districts are failing to provide the basic instruction English learners need.
“It violates the federal law," he said. "It violates state laws that specifically state that EL services must be delivered to these children.”
He said kids who don't speak English are supposed to attend special classes until they catch up. But ACLU lawyer Jessica Price said some of the districts are in such disarray they don’t know where to begin.
“We’ve spoken to teachers and administrators confidentially who’ve told us things like, we don’t even know who the English learner children in the classroom are so we have no idea how to provide them the specialized services,” she said.
Nearly a quarter of California’s six million students are labeled English learners. The vast majority speak Spanish. Vietnamese is a distant second, followed but a bunch of other languages.
UCLA researcher Patricia Gandara says California officials have done little to adopt findings that would help English learners, such as using bilingual teachers.
“There’s substantial evidence now that those children that have the advantage of a teacher who can actually, not only instruct them in a language they understand, but simply even informally assess what they’re understanding, that would go a long way toward helping.” Gandara said.
The ACLU wants the state to hold the districts accountable. California education officials say courts have ruled the state’s already meeting its obligation toward English learners.