Louisiana’s Jefferson Parish Public School System failed to provide adequate translation and interpretation services for Spanish-speaking parents with limited English proficiency (LEP) and created an environment hostile to Latino students. The school system provided notices, such as notices of long-term suspensions and special education materials, in English to English-speaking parents but failed to provide this information to Spanish-speaking parents in Spanish. This failure discriminated against these students and violated state and federal law.
The SPLC filed a complaint against the school district with the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice, resulting in a settlement agreement between the school system and federal authorities.
The complaint describes how LEP parents of Latino students are unable to read and understand important school notices written in English. They also are unable to communicate effectively with school staff because of the lack of interpretation services. M.V., a 7-year-old Latino student, had to translate for his mother at his parent-teacher conference, because the school did not have an on-site translator. M.V. had a difficult time translating the teacher’s messages and resorted to telling his mother that the “teacher said he was doing fine.”
The complaint also describes how the school system’s staff has created a hostile learning environment for Latino students, routinely interrogating them about their citizenship status as a condition of enrollment and graduation. C.K., a rising sophomore, sought a transfer from his high school because of widespread hostility. A teacher called him a “wetback” during class, but school officials failed to take any action against the teacher or remove C.K. from the teacher’s classroom.
Latino students comprised 17 percent of the district’s student population, and LEP students are 8 percent. Federally funded school districts are required by various laws, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to provide LEP parents with important information in a language they can understand. This also requires that schools not condition enrollment or graduation from a public school on a students’ citizenship or immigration status.
The three-year settlement agreement outlines several steps the district must take, including the following:
- A bilingual parent advisory committee will be created to offer recommendations to the school system on the educational program for English language learners. It also will offer recommendations for registration and enrollment policies and communications to parents regarding harassment and bullying.
- A translation and interpretation policy will be implemented to ensure essential information is provided to LEP (limited English proficiency) parents in a language they understand.
- All school system employees who interact with the public will receive annual training for effective communication with LEP parents and the type of information that must be translated or interpreted.
- The school system will revise its policies and practices to ensure that discrimination complaints are investigated and resolved.
- Faculty, staff and students of West Jefferson High School will receive anti-harassment, anti-bullying and diversity training. A school climate survey will be conducted annually at the high school to determine if there is harassment or bullying based on race, color or national origin.
Policies and materials for enrollment and registration also will be revised by the school system before the 2014-15 school year to ensure students are not discouraged from enrolling due to immigration status or citizenship. The school system will ensure that enrollment or graduation does not require parents or students to present a Social Security number, state-issued ID or similar documents.