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Calif. Neglecting Thousands of English-Learners, Lawsuit Claims

More than 20,000 English-learners in California's public schools are not receiving language instruction and the state department of education is failing in its role to ensure that schools educate such students, alleges a lawsuit filed today by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU of Southern California's lawsuit contends the department of education has neglected its obligation to monitor English-language-acquisition programs for students in many of the state's more than 1,000 school districts. California's public schools enroll more than 1.4 million English-learners, roughly one in four of the state's K-12 population. ACLU of Southern California, Asian Pacific American Legal Center, and the private law firm of Latham & Watkins LLP are representing plaintiffs in the suit filed today in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Among the allegations in the lawsuit, the ACLU says that some districts receive tens of millions of dollars in state aid, as well as federal Title III dollars, for the purpose of providing English-language instruction to ELLs, but then don't provide the services. And the state is not monitoring districts as it is legally required to ensure those dollars are spent on that purpose, according to the lawsuit.

It says school districts themselves report to the state department that they have English-learners who are not receiving any instructional services through a category labeled "ELs Not Receiving Any EL Instructional Services."

In a statement reported by the Associated Press, a deputy for state schools chief Tom Torlakson said the state is determined to provide English-learners appropriate instruction and encourages parents to bring problems to the state's attention. The official also pointed to a recent appellate court decision which ruled that the state department was meeting its legal requirements for providing oversight of English-language-acquisition programs for ELLs.

The ACLU earlier this year demanded that state education officials take action against 251 school districts that it found were not providing services to ELLs enrolled in their schools. Those districts include Los Angeles Unified, the state's largest, with roughly 670,000 students.

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