The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has settled a case with a Florida school district over its failure to accommodate English learner students and their families.
After an investigation, the DOJ said that the Clay County School District did not provide non-English speaking students with the language instruction needed to become fluent in English and did not provide their parents with school information in a language they could understand.
Under the 1974 Equal Educational Opportunities Act (EEOA), schools are required to provide equal access to education for children regardless of immigration status or language of origin. Specifically, the law says schools must “take appropriate action to overcome language barriers that impede equal participation” by their students.
“Students who are learning English have the right to engage in coursework alongside their peers, and schools must take action necessary to make that right a reality,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a joint statement regarding the DOJ’s legal action. “The Justice Department will continue to hold schools accountable when they fail to deliver on our collective promise of equality. This agreement will help ensure that English learner students in Clay County are given the tools necessary to succeed and strive in the classroom.”
The investigation began in February of 2020 and included interviews of district officials, school-based personnel from nine schools, and in-person visits where federal officials observed classroom instruction.
In a letter of findings, the DOJ says it discovered numerous EEOA violations, including failure to appropriately identify students who have a primary language other than English, and failure to take appropriate action to overcome language barriers for struggling students.
Per the settlement agreement, the school district will develop an English learner program where students will be taught by qualified teachers. The district will also hire qualified and trained English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Coaches to review student progress and assist teachers with specialized instructional strategies.
Non-English-speaking students are required to have at least one period of English class per day, while those who struggle must receive at least two periods of English language instruction daily.
The district will also provide language translation and interpretation of important school information to parents who are not fluent in English. Justice Department officials will oversee the district’s implementation of the agreement over the next four school years.
“School districts must provide English learner students with appropriate services to overcome language barriers,” U.S. Attorney Roger Handberg for the Middle District of Florida said in the statement. “We are pleased that the Clay County School District has agreed to embrace its obligation to meet the language needs of its English learners so that students can learn English and fully participate in the district’s educational experience. Equal access to educational opportunities is at the heart of civil rights protections for our youth and students are entitled to equal access despite any language barriers they may have.”