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Complaint: Louisiana District Falling Short on Services to ELL Families

Guest post by Jaclyn Zubrzycki

The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed a complaint against the Jefferson Parish Public School System in Louisiana, alleging that the schools are not providing adequate translation and other services to Spanish-speaking students and families.

In announcing the complaint yesterday, the SPLC also released a fact sheet, developed with the Equal Rights Center, a Washington-based research group, that details a number of situations in which documents and school conferences were not adequately translated for families or in which employees seemed unable or unwilling to interact with Spanish speakers.

The complaint outlines instances in which children were asked to serve as translators for parents and cases when requests for Spanish-language translations of information were either denied or ignored. In one situation cited on the fact sheet, a caller was greeted by a staff member who responded by "loudly complaining to another staff member, stating, 'They are speaking in Spanish, like I know Spanish. Who do they think I am? I'm hanging up. I don't want to deal with this today.'"

Monica Pierre, a spokeswoman with the school system, said in a statement that the "JPPSS is committed to providing support for all parents with (limited English proficiency) regardless of their primary language." She said the district provides Spanish-language materials and translators.

Jefferson Parish, located immediately to the west of New Orleans, has experienced a rapid influx of immigrant families—many from Mexico—in the seven years since Hurricane Katrina devastated the region. Many families moved to the area to take jobs in construction and other work related to the massive cleanup and rebuilding effort.

Jefferson Parish's school system has been the subject of two other complaints from the Montgomery-based nonprofit this year, one involving unfair disciplinary actions against black students and one involving black and disabled students in alternative schools, as the Times-Picayune reported.

The SPLC has been aggressive in recent months in filing complaints against school districts across the South where concerns over discriminatory practices against English-learner students and their families have cropped up. Earlier this summer, the group's complaint against the Wake County, N.C. district prompted civil rights officials in the U.S. Department of Education to open an investigation.

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