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N.C. School System Must Stop Discrimination Against Latino Students

The Southern Poverty Law Center and Advocates for Children’s Services today demanded that North Carolina’s Wake County Public School System stop discriminating against Latino students with Spanish-speaking parents or the groups will file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

In a letter to Wake County Schools Superintendent Anthony Tata, the organizations described how limited English proficient (LEP) parents of these 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.

“We simply are asking Wake County public schools to comply with state and federal law by granting these students the same rights as their classmates,” said Caren Short, staff attorney for the SPLC. “Sadly, the district has engaged in discrimination that has left the parents of these students in the dark about their child’s education.”

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.

The Wake County Public School System 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: LEP parents routinely have been denied adequate written notice of long-term suspension recommendations, information about students’ suspension and steps for appealing or enrolling students in alternative education.

“This issue is not only about protecting the civil rights of students and parents, but also about the mission, vision and core beliefs of Wake County schools,” said Jason Langberg, attorney for ACS, a project of Legal Aid of North Carolina. “Adequate translation for LEP parents is very much about student achievement, parent involvement, equity and valuing diversity.”

The advocacy groups suggest several steps to address this discrimination and bring the school system into compliance with the law. These steps include:

  • Hire a Spanish-speaking staff member to work exclusively on discipline matters.
  • Provide all parents and guardians whose primary language is Spanish with forms, packets and information related to suspension or expulsion in Spanish.
  • Provide all parents and guardians whose primary language is Spanish with correspondence and documents related to special education in Spanish.
  • Provide training to all staff on the rights of LEP students and parents. Training shall also be provided to all LEP students and parents, in their primary languages, on their rights.