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California settles with US justice department over services to English learner students

Civil rights lawyers at a press conference announce a lawsuit against California on April 24, 2013 for allegedly failing to provide help for students who aren't fluent in English. Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

California will spend the next two years improving the ways it monitors how the state's schools serve their English language learners to ensure those students aren't left behind, according to a settlement the state reached with the U.S. Department of Justice on Friday.

The settlement ends a process that began in 2013, when the American Civil Liberties Union sued California, alleging that 20,000 English learner students weren't receiving the special services schools are legally required to provide. 

In 2014, the Justice Department began its own investigation of whether the state's Department of Education was failing to properly ensure that school districts complied with laws guiding services to the students.

Last year, the department concluded the state had not responded to evidence that the 20,000 students hadn't received any language instruction for nearly a decade.

Federal law requires that school districts take "appropriate action" to overcome barriers to full participation in school, including language barriers. 

Under the terms of the settlement, state education officials agreed to provide schools accused of underserving English learners a protocol to document how they've resolved their violations. The settlement gives school districts that have reported underserved English learners 90 days to submit evidence to the state that they have fixed those problems. 

The state also pledged to use English language services as a criteria when deciding which schools to review for compliance each year, and to include charter schools in those reviews.

The state further promised to improve its online monitoring tool and professional development services for officials charged with monitoring school districts. 

“We applaud the state of California for working cooperatively with the Justice Department to ensure that all English Learner students can access the language services they need to learn,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the department’s civil rights division, in a statement.

Read the full settlement here.