Justice Department, Students and SFUSD Propose Modified Agreement in 1974 Discrimination Case

The U.S. Justice Department and plaintiffs in a 45-year-old school discrimination case asked a federal judge today to approve a modified agreement for services to English learners in San Francisco schools.

The proposed modified consent decree was submitted in a case known as Lau v. Nichols, which was originally filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco in 1970 on behalf of Chinese-American students in the city who had limited English language proficiency.

In a landmark decision in the case in 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that English learners are entitled to services that enable them to participate effectively in their educational programs.

The court said the services could be either instruction in English proficiency or teaching in their native language. English learners are defined as students with limited or no English language proficiency.

In 1976, the plaintiff students, the San Francisco Unified School District and the Justice Department agreed on a court-supervised consent degree outlining services. In 2008, they agreed on a modified decree setting forth a new master plan for multilingual education, which was approved by U.S. District Claudia Wilken of Oakland.

The new proposed modified consent decree was submitted to Wilken by all three parties in the case today. It must be approved by Wilken before becoming final.

The parties’ attorneys wrote that their clients had determined that “disputed areas of compliance and several changed circumstances would be best addressed by modifying the master plan in order to effectuate its underlying purposes and SFUSD’s compliance with federal law.”

The agreement would apply to 16,000 English learners in the district’s 105 regular schools and five court schools that serve detained and incarcerated students, the Justice Department said.

The services include a combination of English language development instruction and teaching in a student’s primary language if available, according to the proposal.

Provisions of the proposed agreement include provisions to ensure that English learner students are appropriately identified and placed when they begin school and that those with disabilities receive language programs and services.

Other provisions include improved training for employees who serve English learners, protections of the rights of those who are in alternative education or juvenile justice settings, and communication with family members in languages that are understood by those who have limited English proficiency.

Vanita Gupta, chief of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement, “Today, the San Francisco Unified School District made important strides toward promoting the success of every student from the moment the child enters the district.

“As the American dream is rooted in education, we commend the district for taking this critical step toward ensuring that all students, no matter their language background, have an equal opportunity to access that dream,” Gupta said.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

Please make sure your comment adheres to our comment policy. If it doesn't, it may be deleted. Repeat violations may cause us to revoke your commenting privileges. No one wants that!