MALDEF is committed to ensuring that public schools do not ignore the needs of students with limited English proficiency and creating opportunities for all students to succeed academically. In its landmark 1974 decision in Lau v. Nichols, the United States Supreme Court held that public schools cannot fail to provide for the needs of their non-English speaking students, reasoning that “students who do not understand English are effectively foreclosed from any meaningful education,” and that “[b]asic English skills are at the very core of what these public schools teach.”

In 1980, the United States entered into a desegregation Consent Decree with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to create greater educational opportunity for the city’s African-American and Hispanic students. A critical portion of the settlement sought to provide for the needs of the English language learner (ELL) students. MALDEF, the ACLU, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights monitored the CPS’s compliance with the desegregation consent decree, which was modified over the course of the next two decades.

In February 2008, the United States filed a Motion to Enforce provisions of the consent decree as it related to ELLs in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The United States alleged that the Chicago Board of Education repeatedly failed to comply with multiple terms of the Second Amended Consent Decree, all of which related to the provision of services to ELL students. Expert reports revealed that three major problems had reoccurred in multiple years, including: the failure to assign model numbers to special education ELL students, indicating a failure to provide services; a failure to timely enroll students in ELL programs, including the failure to enroll approximately 280 students by April of the school year; and a failure to provide adequate native-language instruction to ELL students.

In March 2008, Amici, including MALDEF, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, and the Chicago Lawyers' Committee submitted a joint statement in support of the Government's Motion to Enforce. U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras has asked the Board of Education to comply with the Government's request to provide certain information pursuant to the Motion to Enforce, including affidavits from individual principals regarding the ELL services provided at their schools and their plans for remedying the inadequate provision of services. Principal affidavits were eventually submitted.

On September 2, 2008, Judge Kocoras of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois called for a November 2008 hearing to consider terminating the Consent Decree (a “unitary status” hearing) and set forth guidelines and deadlines under which parents and community members could submit comments. The Court also ordered publication of Notice of the hearing in four English-language news publications. Because MALDEF was concerned about the short window in which parents and the community would be able to offer the Court meaningful input regarding whether or not the consent decree should be terminated, MALDEF filed a motion asking the Court to revise its ruling to permit the community additional time and opportunity to provide comments to the Court. MALDEF also asked the Court to require publication in two Spanish-language newspapers (in Spanish) and to require the Board to provide the notice to parents of ELL students.

After a September status conference in which amici participated, Judge Kocoras granted MALDEF’s motion and issued a revised Notice. The revised Notice of hearing extends the deadline for public comment from October 10, 2008 to December 1, 2008 and changed the date of the hearing from November 10, 2008 to January 20, 2009. The revised order also requires publication of the translated notice in two Spanish-language newspapers. The Court also permitted the parties to provide notice to up to 50 organizations identified by MALDEF and other Amici. Additionally, the Board agreed to provide notice to Local School Councils for dissemination to parents and students.

In October and November 2008, MALDEF will hold three community presentations on the history of the Consent Decree and current issues affecting Latino and English-language learner students under the Second Amended Consent Decree (SACD).