Between 2010 and 2011, 251 school districts across California openly reported to the state that they denied more than 20,000 students the English language instruction to which they are legally entitled. This failure comes with grave consequences, as children without basic language support services in the classroom are more likely to perform poorly on reading and math tests, and drop out before graduation.
We have evidence that students in need of English assistance – called English learners – have not received these essential services. One of these students, a high school student, reported that he sometimes spent the entire school day without saying a word. After a year of high school, 15 of the English learner students in his class had dropped out. The student grew so desperate that he ended up using a translator application on his cell phone to try to reconstruct the teacher’s words, if only so he could make sense of his homework assignments.
By law, every child in California has the right to receive English instructional services. But districts reported that one in 50 English learners failed to receive this instruction, leaving thousands upon thousands of students without an essential part of their education.
In January, the ACLU of Southern California sent a letter to state officials demanding that they correct this egregious violation. But rather than fixing the problem, state officials pointed the finger at school districts, hinting that districts may have improperly reported the number of students needing English assistance.
One parent reported, “I don’t trust the school district anymore.” She requested anonymity because she fears retaliation. She added, “They kept us in the dark for so long, and now they refuse to change. We have no other choice but to sue the state to get someone to make sure our children get the services they need.”
California bears fundamental responsibility for the public education of all its students including English learners. The state needs to ensure that next year all children in California have the help they need to understand what goes on in our classrooms.
Jessica Price is Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Southern California