Original article appeared in the Courthouse News Service.
By NICK CAHILL
SACRAMENTO (CN) – A civil rights group sued the California Department of Education on Monday for information on the number of public school students struggling to learn English.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area says the Department of Education blew off multiple requests for numbers of long-term English learners in several school districts, including Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest.
Students who do not speak English as a native language and cannot perform ordinary classroom work in English are classified as English learners. California has more than 1 million English learners in its public schools – most of any state – and educators began identifying and developing curriculum for them in the 1970s.
The Lawyers’ Committee and co-plaintiff Public Counsel say the Department of Education refused to provide data on their first request and ignored their second one. They call the information vital for parents looking for school districts with designated programs for English as second language pupils.
“We share these data with parent leaders to help them monitor district programs,” said Gabriella Barbosa, a fellow at Public Counsel in Los Angeles. “Without it, parents and community members are unable to evaluate which English programs work and which ones are failing.”
The Lawyers’ Committee says the state is withholding important records that parents rely on to choose schools for their children and is ignoring state transparency law.
Under state law, the Department of Education must compile and release records on the number of long-term English learners: students who have been unable to perform ordinary classroom work in English for more than six years.
California school districts with large numbers of long-term English learners are given extra funding and asked to form committees to help create curriculum.
The Lawyers’ Committee says state education officials ducked its first request by claiming the records “may be exempt,” and eventually turning over unrelated documents. It says the state has not responded to other public records requests since April.
“CDE’s refusal to provide this information is inexcusable,” said Travis Silva, Equal Justice Works Fellow for the plaintiffs. “No state agency is above the law, and CDE must release this data into the public domain immediately.”
The Department of Education could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday on the lawsuit in Superior Court.
California lawmakers continued to reform education laws Tuesday, as Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill altering school residency laws. Senate Bill 200 allows students to attend school in districts where their live-in working parents, such as nannies, reside.
The bill was inspired by a 2014 incident in which a full-time nanny had her child kicked out of a school district after the district hired a private investigator. Despite living in the district five days a week, the school said the child was not a resident and removed her from the school.
The Lawyers’ Committee, founded in 1968, consists of pro bono attorneys that “work to advance, protect and promote the legal rights of communities of color, low-income persons, immigrants and refugees.” They ask for a writ of mandate ordering the state to comply with the public records request.