Supreme Court Upholds Students' Rights to Learn English

Ruling comports with MALDEF’s argument in Amicus Brief by denying Arizona’s request that compliance under the NCLB met a state’s obligation under the EEOA

June 25, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the first decision by the Supreme Court interpreting the rights of English Language Learner (ELL) students under the Equal Educational Opportunities Act (EEOA), the Court today rejected a challenge by Arizona’s Superintendent and others seeking to diminish the State’s role in affording ELL students the opportunity to learn English. The defendants had argued that the State’s compliance under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) amounted to compliance under the EEOA, but the Court instead held that compliance under NCLB is not determinative and remanded the issue that states be conscious and meet their important obligations under EEOA.

In support of the plaintiffs in this case, MALDEF and other national civil rights groups submitted an Amicus Brief [1] and argued that Congress never intended to absolve a State of its responsibilities under the EEOA. The Court agreed.

“Today, the Supreme Court recognized the utmost importance of State action to ensure students’ rights to become proficient in English,” stated Henry Solano, MALDEF Interim President and General Counsel. “The Court emphatically stated that the EEOA ‘forbids’ states to do otherwise.”

Plaintiffs, a class of ELL students in Nogales, Arizona, brought this action in 1992 arguing that the State had failed to assist ELL students in overcoming their language barriers under the EEOA. Plaintiffs prevailed and subsequently, the State failed to fund programs adequately for ELL students. Although the Supreme Court held that a claim of inadequate funding standing alone is insufficient under the EEOA, the Court remanded the question of funding to the district court for further findings, as well as a number of other evidentiary questions that will have to be answered in light of the opinion.

“The Court held that States must provide effective programs for ELL children and that funding must support EEOA-compliant programs,” added David Hinojosa, MALDEF Staff Attorney. “If states are not appropriately helping ELL students English, they can and will be held accountable under the EEOA.”

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Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund