Group Sues Texas on Behalf of Non-English Speaking Students

A lawsuit has been filed by advocacy groups against the state of Texas in federal court alleging that non-English-speaking high school students have had their civil rights violated by not being provided with adequate instruction.  

Fox News Latino says the Mexican American Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) filed a complaint of 27 pages for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).  The argument is that the state is not following the regulations of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 in which it is explained that “no state can deny students educational opportunities by failing to take appropriate action to overcome language barriers that impede equal participation” in instructional programs.

Two districts were named, the Southwest Independent School District and the North East Independent School District, both of which are in San Antonio, but the allegations apply to schools statewide. According to the US Census Bureau, more residents of San Antonio speak Spanish at home (48.2%) than speak English (47.2%)

“It could have been hundreds” of school districts, said David Hinojosa, MALDEF’s southwest regional counsel. “It would be an exception not to be sued.”

The fact that specific districts are named in the suit may give the suit a better chance of succeeding because the districts are directly responsible for English-language learner (ELL) instruction.  Another plus for the suit is that state monitoring controls that were new in the past few years have now had time to demonstrate their effectiveness, says Will Weissert, writing for the Associated Press.

The problems, as LULAC sees it, are:

  • English language learner programs are not adequately funded and are poorly monitored.
  • Instructors of these programs are not well-trained.
  • Students are pulled out of classes for English instruction, and then “thrown back” into full-immersion courses.
  • Deficient language programs are causing students statewide to perform “abysmally”.
  • English language learners continue to need language training as they progress in grade level.

The chief defendant is Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams. According to spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson:

“Many of the allegations have already been heard in federal court and defended by the state,” Culbertson said. “We stand ready to defend them again.”

According to Weissert of the Associated Press. the most recent data available note that some 863,000 students, more than 17% of total public school enrollment, are designated as ELL.  Of that number, 90% are Hispanic.  The lawsuit reads:

“Contrary to popular belief, a majority of ELL students in secondary schools are not classified as recent immigrants,” it states, adding that about 70% of ELL students currently in grades six through 12 have been in Texas public schools for at least five years, a figure that has increased by 10% in the last five years. The court filing cites testing data that show that statewide, 56% of long term ELL students in third through 12th grade have failed to advance at least one level on state language proficiency exams.

Morgan Smith, a reporter for The Texas Tribune, adds that a spokeswoman for the Southwest Independent School District said that the district has not yet been officially served papers.  The district wanted to go on record with the statement that it believes in the education of all students from all backgrounds  and that it is looking forward “to sharing our academic progress”.