The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California has sued California officials alleging about 20,000 students who don't speak English fluently are languishing in public school classrooms without the help schools are mandated to provide.
The state’s large immigrant population makes English learner instruction a big issue in California. The state labels about one in four public school students as English learners. Many are immigrants; others are U.S. citizens raised by parents who speak a foreign language. State and federal laws require schools to help these students become fluent speakers, readers and writers of English so they'll do well in other academic subjects.
But Oxnard teacher and administrator Walt Dunlop, who attended the ACLU's press conference announcing Wednesday's lawsuit, said that’s not what he saw in the classroom. He said English learner students went days without help from teachers or peers.
“Over a lifetime as an educator, I’ve known English learner students who in despair have said to me about dropping out of school: ‘there’s nothing here for me Mr. Dunlop, nothing here for me.’ High school students crying during high stakes exams feeling that failure is imminent,” Dunlop said.
Mark Rosenbaum of the ACLU said his group sued the state for doing "nothing, nada" to identify these struggling students to keep them from falling through the cracks, even though civil rights lawyers put the state on notice of the problem earlier this year.
The state has a complaint process and Rosenbaum said that's about all it does.
State officials would not address the specifics of the lawsuit, saying they have yet to receive it, but generally denied the ACLU's allegations.
“The California Department of Education is determined to ensure that all English learner students receive appropriate instruction and services,” California Chief Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard Zeiger said in a written statement.
The statement went on to say that a recent court ruling confirms the state is meeting its legal obligation to English learners and will ensure that school districts are following the law.
According to data released this month, the high school graduation rate for English learners is 61.6 percent and has remained static over a two year period. The rate pales in comparison to the statewide graduation rate of 78.5 percent.