11/14/2012

SPLC civil rights complaint in Jefferson Parish, La., schools prompts deeper federal investigation

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) today welcomed an announcement by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education that they will investigate two additional components of an SPLC civil rights complaint that describes widespread discrimination against Latino students and their families in Louisiana’s Jefferson Parish Public School System (JPPSS).

“We are pleased with the departments’ decision to investigate all of our concerns regarding the treatment of Latino students and their families in the Jefferson Parish School System,” said Jennifer Coco, staff attorney in the SPLC’s Louisiana office. “The investigation is a significant step toward protecting their rights and creating a more welcoming school environment.”

In a Nov. 13 letter announcing the investigation, U.S Attorney Paul D. Castillo said the departments would expand their investigation to examine: “(1) whether the District provides national origin-minority parents who have limited proficiency in English with information provided to other parents in a language they understand; and, (2) whether the District failed to take prompt and effective action to respond to harassing conduct creating a hostile environment for Latino students based on national origin, of which JPPSS knew or should have known.”

“Parental involvement is key to a child’s success in school,” Coco said. “That is why it is so important for the school district to ensure these parents receive information about their child’s education in a language they can understand. If the district shuts these parents out of their child’s education, they are only setting these children up for failure.”

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 all people within the United States.

Last month, the departments announced a joint investigation into the JPPSS’s policies and practices regarding the documentation needed for student registration, enrollment and graduation.

The SPLC complaint, filed in August on behalf of 16 Latino students and their families, outlines how the district created a hostile environment by allowing employees to harass Latino students about their citizenship status. The complaint also describes the district’s failure to provide Spanish-speaking parents with limited English proficiency access to information regarding school activities and adequate translation and interpretation services.