Officials with Florida’s Collier County schools effectively barred immigrant children with limited English skills from enrolling in high school and pushed them into an adult English program that offered no opportunity to earn credit toward a high school diploma – a violation of state and federal laws. The SPLC filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of students denied enrollment.
When families attempted to enroll their children at Collier County high schools, administrators told them they were only eligible to attend an adult education program that offered English language instruction but virtually no instruction in other basic subjects, according to the lawsuit. In adult education, they could not participate in any of the high school’s academic enrichment or extracurricular activities. They were completely segregated from their English-speaking peers.
In 2013, the Collier County School Board adopted a policy that lowered the maximum age at which a student could enroll if the student was not on track to graduate within two years. School employees denied enrollment to recently arrived English language learners who were 16 or older, claiming these students were behind academically.
State law, however, required that schools take active steps to encourage students 16 or older to remain in high school. The Florida Constitution also required the district to provide a “quality education” to all students. The district had taken no steps to evaluate, assess and create a plan for these students’ education, as required under state and federal law.
The lawsuit sought to enroll the plaintiffs in Collier County high schools and provide them with instruction to make up for the education they have missed. It also sought a change in district policy to end ongoing violations of law.
The SPLC reached a settlement agreement with the Collier County School Board – approved by a federal court on Oct. 8, 2019 – that established a notification and administrative appeals process for any student determined to be ineligible for enrollment in the regular high school program.