According to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in California, more than 20,000 students enrolled in schools around the state are not getting the level of English instruction they require. California schools are required by law to offer English instruction to those who don't speak the language, but according to the district's own records, more than 20,000 people don't get the help to which they're legally entitled.
The ACLU alleges that this failure to provide language help is instrumental in keeping kids left back and results in low scores on exams that measure student proficiency.
According to attorney Mark Rosenbaum, the state fails to provide English lessons to those who need it at the same time that it continues to accept federal funding for ESOL assistance.
The ACLU brought the issue to the attention of the state with a letter in January, and officials say they're working to ensure compliance at the local level.
Chief Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard Zeiger said in a statement that the state is determined to provide English learners appropriate instruction and encouraged parents to bring problems to the state's attention.
"The Department will continue to work with local agencies to ensure compliance with districts' obligations to provide services to English learners," Zeiger said.
Zeiger also noted that a recent appellate court decision found that the department was meeting its legal obligations related to on-site monitoring of English learners.
In its lawsuit, ACLU demonstrates the issue using three families whose children speak Spanish while attending the Compton Unified School District, along with an 18-year-old who is enrolled in Grossmont Union High School District in San Diego.
Although in each case the student was identified as needing additional English language instruction, they were removed from ESOL courses soon after and their grades started to suffer almost immediately.
One mother had both of her children, an 8-year-old and a 10-year-old, held back a year immediately after they stopped being provided language instruction, the suit alleged.
Rosenbaum said parents often didn't know their children had been taken out of language classes, and in one case, a mother was told to bring her own translator to school meetings to get an explanation.
In response to the January letter, school officials acknowledged the problem while adding more than 98 percent of the state's 1.4 million English learners are receiving services.