10/11/2012

Federal investigation of public schools in Louisiana’s Jefferson Parish launched in response to SPLC civil rights complaint

 The U.S. Departments of Justice and Education have responded to a civil rights complaint by the Southern Poverty Law Center by announcing they will investigate Louisiana’s Jefferson Parish Public School System for discriminating against Latino students.

The SPLC complaint “raises concerns about the District’s compliance with its Federal obligations to ensure that its policies and practices do not discriminate against students on the basis of race, color or national origin,” says a letter announcing the investigation.

The investigation will be led by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights – the primary federal agencies charged with ensuring equal protection under the law for people within the United States.

“The Jefferson Parish School System must recognize that Latino students and their parents have the same rights as their English-speaking counterparts,” said Jennifer Coco, staff attorney in the SPLC’s Louisiana office.

The SPLC complaint, filed in August on behalf of 16 Latino students and their families, outlines how the district has created a hostile environment by allowing employees to harass Latino students about their citizenship status.

Various laws, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibit federally funded school districts from using a student’s citizenship or immigration status as a condition of enrollment or graduation from a public school.

Latino students comprise 17 percent of the district’s student population.

The SPLC complaint describes how L.M., a recent graduate of West Jefferson High School, was harassed for proof of her Social Security number by school staffers before her May 2012 graduation. She was informed that she would not be able to graduate without it.

Other West Jefferson seniors were subjected to a similar line of questioning.

“This investigation is desperately needed to change the discriminatory environment endured by many students in Jefferson Parish,” said Caren Short, an SPLC staff attorney. “These students deserve an equal opportunity to succeed in the classroom.”