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Thousands of English-Learners Denied Services in Calif., ACLU Says

More than 20,000 English-learners in California are not receiving English-language instruction that is required under state and federal law, according to civil rights lawyers who are threatening to sue the state education agency over the matter.

The American Civil Liberties Union of California on Wednesday demanded that state officials take action against 251 school districts that it says are not providing English-language acquisition services to ELLs enrolled in their schools. Those districts include Los Angeles Unified, the state's largest, with roughly 670,000 students.

The ACLU, along with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, sent their demands in letters to Tom Torlakson, California's schools chief, and members of the state board of education. Lawyers for the organizations said they would file a lawsuit if the state education agency did not act within 30 days.

There are roughly 1.4 million English-language learners in California. The ACLU claims that nearly 21,000 of them don't receive any language services, and that many parents are not even aware that their children have been designated as ELLs because they don't receive information in a language that they understand, in violation of state law.

California education officials said 98 percent of the state's English-learners receive services, according to a statement released by the education agency.

"Despite the enormous financial strains of recent years, California has made dramatic progress in seeing that all English-learners receive appropriate instruction and services," said Karen Cadiero-Kaplan, the director of the state's English-learner support division, in a statement. Ms. Cadiero-Kaplan noted that a recent state appellate court decision had affirmed that the state department had fulfilled its legal obligations to monitor districts' delivery of language-acquisition services to English-learners.

Last spring, the ACLU sued the small school district in Dinuba, Calif., over what it called inadequate and unequal education of English-learners. That lawsuit—settled a few months later—also claimed that the state education department's oversight of the district's services for ELLs was too weak. According to the ACLU, Dinuba educators were using a reading program for 1st and 2nd grade students that focused on teaching grammar and spelling as a means for learning English, and that many teachers had voiced numerous ethical and pedagogical concerns about the instructional approach. The district agreed to replace the program.

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