Civil Rights Complaint Filed Against School District on Behalf of English Learner Students

By Ken Epstein

Several local Latino organizations filed a complaint this week with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights against the Oakland Unified School District for failing to provide adequate education to English Language Learner students.

Latino Education Network spokesman Jorge Lerma hold a copy of the complaint that was filed this week with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights. Photo by Ken Epstein

Latino Education Network spokesman Jorge Lerma hold a copy of the complaint that was filed this week with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights. Photo by Ken Epstein

The complaint alleges that English Learners are systematically deprived of their rights to equal education under the law, citing evidence based on a review of Oakland’s English-Language programs conducted for OUSD by the Stanford University Graduate School of Education.

The Stanford study, which was released earlier this year, “revealed deep and troubling practices and conditions in the English Language Learner program in Oakland,” said Jorge Lerma, spokesman for the Latino Education Network.

“The complaint says OUSD has participated in systematic and multigenerational non compliance in regard to federal and state regulations, which in turn has negatively impacted English Language Learner students for many decades, “ said Lerma.

As a result, he said, “OUSD has created a dual system of education in Oakland, one for English speakers and one for English Language Learners.”

The complaint has been filed, he said, because the “community has been patient and has believed in the good will of school and governmental leaders with no meaningful results.”

Among its specific allegations, the complaint says:

Students are not counseled to take courses they need nor prepared to pass the required academic classes that are required to enter the university, causing many students to end up dropping out of school or not being prepared to go to college;

Many classes that were labeled as “bilingual” were in fact conducted entirely or nearly all in English, disregarding students’ individual needs and level of understanding;

Many students who no longer need English Language instruction or needed more advanced instruction were left to languish in programs that did not challenge them;

The Stanford study found that in 43 percent of middle and high school classrooms and 37 percent of elementary classroom, fewer than one-fourth of the students interacted verbally at last once during a class session. However, the study notes that “academic discussion” is a prime method for teaching English;

English Language Development teachers tend to be newer and have less in-service training than other teachers to prepare them to understand their students’ needs and the cultural context in which the children live.

According to the Stanford study, 30 percent of OUSD students are English Language Learners, and 49 percent speak a language other than English at home.

The district’s demographics last year, when the study was done, were 38.1 Latino, 30.6 percent African American, 14.1 percent Asian and 11.8 percent white.

The complaint was filed Tuesday by the Latino Education Network, the Educational Coalition for Hispanics in Oakland, (ECHO), which has been active in the city for more than 20 years, and the Spanish Speaking Citizens’ Foundation, founded in 1965.

At press time, the school district had not responded to the Post’s request for a comment.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 19, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)