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California Stands Trial in Lawsuit Alleging State Neglects English-Learners

A lawsuit alleging that California public education officials have failed to provide language instruction to tens of thousands of English-language learners across the state goes to trial today (July 31) in Los Angeles Superior Court.

The suit—brought last year on behalf of six plaintiffs by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and other civil rights advocates—contends that the California Department of Education has been neglecting its obligation to monitor English-language-acquisition services for students in many of the state's more than 1,000 school districts. Public schools in the state enroll more than 1.4 million English-language learners, which is about one in four students in the state's K-12 population.

In its lawsuit, the ACLU alleges 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 do in order to ensure those dollars are spent on that purpose, according to the lawsuit.

The ACLU was joined by a powerful ally earlier this month when officials in the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice weighed in with a brief supporting the lawsuit.

In that brief, Justice Department lawyers highlight the multiple years of language census data reported by school districts to the state department of education that show that tens of thousands of English-learners were not receiving English-language acquisition instruction. The brief also suggests that since the lawsuit was filed, the numbers of English-learners not receiving services may have increased.

"California's EL students cannot afford to wait any longer," wrote Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels.

State officials have said little publicly about the merits of the lawsuit since it was filed in April of last year, so it will be very interesting to hear their defense.


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