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Louisiana District Agrees to Improve Services for English-Language Learners

Louisiana's Jefferson Parish school system—the target of a pair of civil rights complaints stemming from its services for English-language learners—has agreed to an array of new policies and programs meant to protect the civil rights of ELLs.

The three-year, voluntary agreement was announced Wednesday by federal civil rights officials in the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. Complaints against the district—orginally filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center—alleged that Jefferson Parish schools did not provice adequate translation and other services to Spanish-speaking students and their families.

The 46,000-student district in Jefferson Parish, located just west of New Orleans, has experienced a rapid influx of immigrant families—many from Mexico—in the nine 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.

Under the terms of the agreement with federal civil rights officials, Jefferson Parish will, among other things:

  • Revise enrollment materials and policies to ensure that students are not discouraged from entering school because of their immigration status.
  • Ensure that parents and students are not asked to provide a social security number or any other document that requires proof of citizenship or immigration status as a condition to enroll.
  • Implement a translation and interpretation policy to ensure that non-English-speaking parents receive information in languages they understand.
  • Provide annual training to school district staff members who handle enrollment and registration, as well as those who interact regularly with parents.
  • Create a bilingual parent advisory committee to advise the district on services for ELLs, communications with families of ELLs, enrollment policies, and the harassment and bullying of immigrant students.

The agreement also calls for targeted anti-bullying diversity training and an annual school climate survey at one of the district's high schools, where a physical education teacher allegedly used a racial slur when referring to a Latino student in class.

The district said it had already been working to improve services for English-learners, including the hiring last month of an elementary school principal to serve as executive director of its programs for ELLs.

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