06/13/2012

Complaint Filed Against N.C. School System to Stop Discrimination Against Latino Students

The Southern Poverty Law Center and Advocates for Children’s Services filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights against North Carolina’s Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) for discriminating against Latino students with Spanish-speaking parents.

The complaint, filed on behalf of three Latino students and their families, describes how limited English proficient (LEP) parents of Latino students are unable to read and understand important school documents in English – specifically, notices of long-term suspensions and special education materials. By providing this information to English-speaking parents in English, but failing to provide it to Spanish-speaking parents in Spanish, the school system has discriminated against these students and violated state and federal law as well as local policy.

“Wake County public schools must end this discrimination and recognize that these students and their parents have the same rights as English-speaking students,” said Caren Short, staff attorney for the SPLC. “This is about ensuring every student in the district has an opportunity to succeed. An integral component of that success is a parent’s participation in special education and discipline matters.”

Latino students comprise 15 percent of the district’s student population and LEP students are 7.5 percent of the student population. Federally-funded school districts are required by various laws, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to take reasonable steps to ensure that non-English speaking students have a meaningful opportunity to participate in education programs. This requires that schools provide LEP parents with important information in a language they can understand.

“Before filing this complaint, we gave WCPSS an opportunity to respond and remedy these violations,” said Peggy Nicholson, attorney for ACS, a project of Legal Aid of North Carolina. “Instead of working with us to ensure that the civil rights of its most vulnerable students are protected, the school system chose to continue its ongoing deliberate indifference to its policies and practices that push these students out of school and marginalize parents. WCPSS has, unfortunately, put itself in the position of incurring avoidable legal fees in the midst of a budget crisis and bringing even more negative attention to the district.”

The complaint outlines how the school district has failed to comply with the law in at least two areas:

  • Inadequate translation of written documents related to special education services and processes: LEP parents routinely have been denied written information regarding special education services for their children, such as notice of meetings, progress reports and Individualized Education Programs.

  • Inadequate translation of written documents related to long-term suspensions: Latino students in the district are disproportionately suspended at a rate 2.6 times greater than white students. Yet LEP parents routinely have been denied adequate written notice of long-term suspension recommendations, information about students’ suspension and steps for appealing it or enrolling the student in alternative education.

 

The three Latino students’ cases described in the complaint illustrate how current policies prevent their LEP parents from actively participating in the education of their children:

  • M.H., a sixth-grade Latino student with a learning disability, was recommended for long-term suspension. His mother’s native language is Spanish and she understands little spoken or written English. The school provided all of the written information on the individualized facts of M.H.'s alleged offense to his mother in English only. This information is necessary for a parent to effectively appeal a suspension. To understand what was happening to her son, M.H.'s mother had to seek translation from her son’s tutor, who does not work for the district and is not fluent in Spanish.

  • T.H., a ninth-grade Latina student with a learning disability, was placed on an Individualized Education Program (IEP) – a plan that lists the special education and related services for the student. Her mother understands little spoken or written English and was never given a copy of the IEP in Spanish. When the ninth-grader was recommended for suspension, the letter and notice of suspension were provided in English only. When the assistant principal called to discuss the suspension with the student’s mother, he spoke in English and did not have a translator. T.O.’s mother understood little of what he said and could not ask questions.
  • K.R., a ninth-grade Latino student, was recommended for long-term suspension. The letter and notice of suspension were sent to K.R.’s mother in English only. His mother wanted to appeal the suspension, but was not provided with any individualized information in Spanish about K.R.'s alleged offense or his alternative education options. K.R.’s mother also requested her son be tested for special education services, but all of the written information related to his eligibility for those services was provided to her in English only.
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