Fifth Circuit Remands English Language Learner Case to Determine Cause of "Alarming" Failure Rate of Students

Appellate Court also finds that school districts may file for release from desegregation order

March 23, 2010

NEW ORLEANS, LA – Today, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s ruling in favor of middle and high school English Language Learner students in the long-standing school desegregation case, US v. Texas, and ordered the trial court to determine “the cause of [ELL] student failure and how best to remedy it.” Recognizing “that [ELL secondary] student performance is alarming,” the Court stated that adding individual schools districts as defendants on remand will allow the court to better determine which entities may be liable for violating the rights of ELL students under the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974.

“This is a disappointing decision in that the Court of Appeals should have let the lower court decision stand. The evidence in the case showed that middle and high school ELL students are failing across the state and Texas Education Agency (TEA) has done virtually nothing to ensure these students are learning English,” said co-lead counsel David Hinojosa of MALDEF. “But the door remains open for us to present further evidence supporting the civil rights violations and we intend to do just that.”

Roger Rice, co-lead counsel from the Multicultural Education, Training and Advocacy, Inc. (META), stated: “Whether it is the ultimate responsibility of TEA or school districts, the fact remains—and the Court found as an alarming fact—that thousands of secondary ELL students are not learning in Texas public schools and something must be done about it. Texas cannot afford to lose another generation of students just because state and local education agencies want to pass the buck.”

In 2006, MALDEF and META, on behalf of LULAC and the GI Forum, filed court papers arguing that TEA’s secondary English as a Second Language (ESL) program had failed and that its monitoring program had masked the failure in the secondary schools. In 2008, the U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice agreed, finding that Texas was failing to overcome language barriers for well over 140,000 secondary Latino ELL students. Today, the Fifth Circuit reversed the decision, finding that the State’s monitoring program had been in place for only two years and that the cause for the failure needed to be explored further on remand because the local school districts, rather than the State, could have caused the failure. The Court denied the State’s request to dismiss the case in its entirety.

The Fifth Circuit also issued a ruling in the school-desegregation part of the case. Since 1970, Texas has been under a statewide desegregation order which, among other things, requires TEA to monitor inter-district student transfers. The Fifth Circuit held that the statewide order should not apply to school districts that were previously dismissed from desegregation orders and that other school districts, which no longer segregate students, may ask the Court to remove them from TEA’s monitoring.

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