California education officials sued for records on English learners

Original article appeared in The Sacramento Bee

A civil rights group filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Education on Monday, claiming the state refused to divulge records detailing its number of long-term English-language learners.

The plaintiffs contend that state education officials are required to collect data on the number of English learners in public schools and inform individual school districts about their findings. Under state law, agencies and officials must make certain records available for public inspection upon request.

The lawsuit, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court, was brought by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area and Public Counsel, which are asking for a court order to enforce the California Public Records Act and to obtain the documents.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said officials have yet to review the lawsuit and will reserve their comment.

Travis Silva, a fellow at the lawyers’ committee, called the department’s refusal to provide the information “inexcusable.” “No state agency is above the law and CDE must release this data into the public domain immediately,” he said.

Parent groups routinely rely on records about English learners to monitor the progress of school districts’ development programs, said Gabriella Barbosa, a fellow at Public Counsel in Los Angeles.

The lawyers’ committee claims that many students have spent more than six years in the state’s English Language Development program without becoming proficient in English. California served more than 1.3 million English learners during the 2014-15 school year, the lawsuit states.

The lawyers’ committee works primarily with immigrants, low-income families and communities of color. Last week, it joined with Secretary of State Alex Padilla when he announced the state would not appeal a court decision allowing some felons to vote while under county government supervision.

In April, the group issued a report concluding that the state’s traffic courts help drive inequality. Two months later, Judicial Council approved an urgent rule change that permits people with traffic tickets to appear in court without paying their fines beforehand.