California has the duty to help all students who are English learners, since this is part of its obligation to guarantee that every student has the same opportunity to receive an education.
That was what Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant said when he ruled in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in the lawsuit it filed against state education authorities. The ACLU’s legal action began last year, based on the results of a 2010-11 statewide school survey that revealed that several school districts did not serve the needs of more than 20,000 English learners.
It is apparent that state authorities played down the importance of these results. They pointed out that not all districts answered all the questions—as if this were not more a reason for concern than for reassurance—and that California is fulfilling its duty to provide an education to 1.4 million English learners in public schools.
Less than 2% does not mean much statistically, unless you child is among the students who are not getting the same level of education—which, to top it off, is funded by the federal government. Washington provides special funding for English learners through Title III.
That there are school districts who are getting money to teach English and leaving tens of thousands of students without this education should have caused concern among school authorities and resulted in a course of action. But that did not happen.
The ACLU had to file a lawsuit, which the Justice Department joined, to at least get attention from the authorities. This was achieved thanks to Judge Chalfant’s ruling. Now it is up to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education and the state superintendent of public instruction to ensure that all school districts comply with the law and fulfill their duties.