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Civil Rights Groups Sue Texas Districts Over English-Learner Services

Latino civil rights organizations on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against two Texas school districts and the state's education agency, alleging that education officials are not providing adequate instructional programs to tens of thousands of English-language learners.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, filed the suit in federal court on behalf of the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC.

The 27-page complaint singles out two San Antonio-area school systems—the Southwest Independent district and the North East Independent district—and the Texas Education Agency. It faults the local districts for providing "grossly deficient" language programs and the state education department for failing to monitor and intervene in those programs.

MALDEF argues that the state education agency's failure to closely monitor English-language instruction means that "tens of thousands of ELL students across Texas are not acquiring English proficiency as required under the federal Equal Educational Opportunities Act." The complaint zeroes in on the quality of language programs in middle and high schools and alleges that weak English-as-a-second-language instruction is largely responsible for the "abysmal performance" of ELLs, especially at the secondary level.

The state education agency's weak monitoring and refusal to intervene, the suit alleges, only compounds the problem and "continues to mask these failing language programs, leading to ELLs not learning English, performing poorly in the classroom, and not getting the tools they need to succeed."

The lawsuit also singles out the growth in the number of Texas' "long-term" ELLs—those who have been classified as English-learners and receiving language instruction for five or more years. Roughly 70 percent of Texas' ELL population in middle and high schools are long-term English-learners, up from 60 percent in 2006, the suit alleges. Both school districts are failing to provide teachers who are trained in working with English-learners and the education agency has watered down the standards for becoming certified to teach English as a second language, or ESL.

There is a 40-year history of civil rights lawsuits in Texas over the education of English-learners, most of whom are of Mexican descent. Mostly recently, in 2010, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit reversed a lower court's ruling that Texas' monitoring of ELL services was deficient. But the 5th Circuit did not dismiss the case. It remanded it back to the lower court amid concerns about the "alarming performance" of English-learners and encouraged the plaintiffs (including LULAC) to name individual school districts.

A spokeswoman for the Texas education agency told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the state attorney general's office is reviewing the new complaint and that many of the allegations leveled at the state have already been heard in court and defended by the state.

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