LOS ANGELES -- Two days after Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced plans to step up enforcement of civil rights law on behalf of students in a speech in Selma, Ala., the U.S. Department of Education announced its first formal civil rights enforcement action. The department will examine the academic opportunities and access of English Learner (EL) students in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to assess whether they are being denied equal educational opportunities.
The Los Angeles compliance review is one of a series of activities that a reinvigorated Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will be undertaking in coming months. L.A. School Superintendent Ramon Cortines is cooperating with the department’s review.
Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali said, “We welcome his support and applaud his readiness to better serve EL students. We all understand that when one group of students is struggling, we are morally and legally obliged to take action.” Ali said that only three percent of EL students in LAUSD high schools are proficient in math and English, and the district’s programs have not undergone a civil rights compliance review for more than a decade.
OCR will assess whether LAUSD provides EL students with an effective program of English language development and meaningful access to core curricular content. The review will also examine whether the district regularly evaluates the implementation and effectiveness of the EL program and communicates effectively with parents of EL students.
“At this time, we have reached no conclusion as to whether any violations of federal law exist,” Assistant Secretary Ali emphasizes. “But the number of EL students and children of color in Los Angeles is large. It is critical that all students in the district receive equal access to a quality education. If civil rights violations are found, we will seek to put an end to them promptly.”
Ali will discuss the new compliance review in three forums in Los Angeles on March 10, including a stakeholders forum at 1:30 p.m. at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce; a press conference at the Chamber at 3:15 p.m. with Superintendent Cortines; and a special town hall event from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Saint Anne’s Conference Center.
“I am looking forward to learning about Los Angeles’ programs for EL learners,” says Ali. “In today’s information age, America has to both raise the bar for student learning and close the achievement gap -- anything less is economically unsustainable and morally unacceptable.”