07/05/2012

DOE to Investigate N.C. School System Following Complaint by SPLC and Advocates for Children’s Services

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), has responded to a complaint filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and Legal Aid of North Carolina/Advocates for Children’s Services (ACS) by announcing it will investigate North Carolina’s Wake County Public School System for discrimination against Latino students with Spanish-speaking parents.

The complaint, filed in June on behalf of three Latino students, their families, and all others similarly situated described 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. The ability to understand disciplinary proceedings and special education procedures are key educational rights owed to all families.

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 recognize that Latino students and their parents have the same rights as their English-speaking counterparts,” said Caren Short, staff attorney at the SPLC. “We are pleased that the Office for Civil Rights is investigating the district’s policies on translating important school documents. Every student must have an opportunity to succeed in the classroom.”

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. Parental participation is a key predicator to future academic success.

“This investigation is good news for all Latino students in Wake County schools whose parents have limited English proficiency,” said Peggy Nicholson, one of the ACS attorneys representing the students in the complaint. ACS is a project of Legal Aid North Carolina. “We hope this investigation results in Wake County public schools adopting new policies and practices that better enable all parents to play a more meaningful role in their children’s education.”

OCR is responsible for determining whether recipients of federal money from the Department of Education are complying with federal law. Wake County receives federal money from the department, giving OCR jurisdiction to investigate this discrimination complaint.