North Carolina’s Wake County Public School System denied Spanish-speaking parents the opportunity to participate in their children’s education. The school system provided school 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 – discriminating against these students and violating state and federal law. The Southern Poverty Law Center and Advocates for Children’s Services, a project of Legal Aid of North Carolina, filed a complaint against the school district with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
After the Office for Civil Rights announced an investigation, the district agreed to develop a plan to ensure limited-English-proficient (LEP) parents have the opportunity to participate in their child’s education.
The complaint outlines how the school district 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 were 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. Latino students in the district were disproportionately suspended at a rate 2.6 times greater than white students. LEP parents routinely were denied adequate written notice of long-term suspension recommendations, information about students’ suspension and steps for appealing it or enrolling the student in alternative education.
The complaint described how the school system’s current policies prevented LEP parents from actively participating in the education of their children. For example, M.H., a sixth-grade Latino student with a learning disability, was recommended for long-term suspension. His mother’s native language is Spanish and she understood little spoken or written English. The school provided all of the written information on the individualized facts of M.H.'s alleged offense to his mother in English only.
This information is necessary for a parent to effectively appeal a suspension. To understand what was happening to her son, M.H.’s mother had to seek translation from her son’s tutor, who did not work for the district and was not fluent in Spanish.
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.
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