Durham, N.C., Schools Agree to Protect Latino Students from Discrimination, Ending SPLC Complaint

The school system in Durham, N.C., has agreed to end discriminatory practices that created a hostile environment for Latino students and prevented them from receiving an adequate public education. The agreement followed a federal civil rights complaint filed by the SPLC on behalf of Latino students.

Under the agreement, Durham Public Schools will strengthen its anti-discrimination policy and create new procedures to help guarantee that thousands of non-English speaking students and their families are not excluded from education programs. Federal law requires public schools to take reasonable steps to ensure that non-English speaking students have a meaningful opportunity to participate in education programs.

The SPLC notified the district earlier this year of discriminatory behavior by teachers, including an incident involving a teacher who pushed a student against a wall and said “go back to your own country.” The SPLC also cited a lack of Spanish language interpreters and ready access to translated materials for students and their parents.

“This agreement is a great victory for students and parents in Durham Public Schools,” said Jerri Katzerman, deputy legal director for the SPLC. “It goes a long way toward ensuring that children from immigrant families and their parents have a meaningful opportunity to participate in the district’s education programs.”

The SPLC complaint, filed in April with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, noted that the district had only three Spanish language interpreters for more than 5,300 students whose primary language is Spanish. Federal law requires schools to provide these students and their families with access to interpreters and important school documents in a language they can understand.

Under the agreement, the Durham school system will:

  • Strengthen its anti-discrimination policy. It will distribute copies of the policy and provide additional training to prevent discriminatory actions in the future.
  • Review its registration and enrollment policies to ensure that these policies do not discourage parents from enrolling their children in school due to their citizenship, immigration status or national origin.
  • Provide important documents and other parental notifications in the native language of a student’s parents.
  • Provide interpreters to help parents with limited English proficiency understand documents and other parental notifications. The district also will train its staff on procedures regarding language assistance and related issues.

The Office for Civil Rights will monitor compliance with the terms of the agreement through June 2013.