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ACLU: State failing to deliver English language instruction to thousands of southland students

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Two activist organizations threatened Wednesday to sue state educators unless English-language instruction is substantially improved for thousands of students they contend are being under-served in San Diego's Grossmont Union High School District, among others.

The American Civil Liberties Union of California and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center sent a letter to Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and members of the state Board of Education, demanding that English-language classes be provided in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Grossmont Union High School District and elsewhere in compliance with state and federal law.

"Each additional day an EL child goes without language instructional services is another day that child is effectively foreclosed from a meaningful education," said Jessica Price, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California.

"The children who are neglected today, in schools with no EL services, become the long-term English learners of tomorrow, sometimes struggling their entire school careers without anyone stepping in to make sure they have the tools to learn," she said.

The organizations also issued a report detailing what they consider inaction on the part of state educators. The California Department of Education, however, insisted that nearly every student requiring EL services is being taken care of.

"Despite the enormous financial strains of recent years, California has made dramatic progress in seeing that all English learners receive appropriate instruction and services," said Karen Cadiero-Kaplan, director of the CDE's English Learner Support Division.

"School districts - which are responsible for providing instruction to students and appropriate services to English learners - currently report that more than 98 percent of the state's 1.4 million English learners are receiving services," she said.

According to the ACLU/APALC report, 4,000 of LAUSD's almost 195,000 EL students receive no English-language instruction, while Compton Unified provides no services to nearly 1,700 of its EL students.

The lack of instruction violates legal mandates, according to the report. Additionally, studies show that EL students who are denied language classes are more likely to fail or drop out of school, the organizations said.

"Affording no services whatsoever to these children ghettoizes them, imprisoning their hearts and minds by cutting them off from the essential tool of communication necessary to read, speak and learn in all our schools and communities," said Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel of the ACLU/SC.

The organizations requested a formal response from Torlakson and the Board of Education within 30 days.

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