State Sued for Not Releasing School Records on English Learners

Thursday, August 13, 2015

California wants its K-12 students to be proficient enough in English to handle core curricula but isn’t real good at it. More than 20,000 of them receive no English language training, and services to help 1.3 million English learners are skimpy in one out of every four school districts in the state.

Lawmakers passed legislation in 2012 requiring the state to gather information on the students (one out of every four kids in school) and relay that information back to schools and districts. A lot of that information is made public on Dataquest, the California Department of Education’s (CDE) database website, including breakdowns by school, home language and those annually redesignated as proficient in English.

But key data, known as Section 313.2 reports, is not posted online and, according to civil rights groups, is being denied to the public.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (LCCR) and Public Counsel filed two California Public Records Act requests with the CDE for information on the number of “long-term” English learners, those who struggled most to learn the language, and those in danger of become “long-term” learners. They are the majority of English learners and many have spent more than six years in California’s English Language Development program without gaining English proficiency.

One was refused and the other was ignored, so the groups sued the state (pdf) this week in Sacramento County Superior Court. Why is the information important? Gabriella Barbosa, Equal Justice Works Fellow at Public Counsel in Los Angeles, explained:

“We share these data with parent leaders to help them monitor district programs.  Without it, parents and community members are unable to evaluate which English programs work and which ones are failing.”  

That is especially important now, because, as the lawsuit points out, “California’s school finance system is in the midst of a profound transformation.” Legislation passed in 2013 allocates school district funding partially based on the number of English learners. A critical part of the “Local Control Funding Formula” is the participation of parents, students and the community in determining how the money is spent.

LCCR and Private Counsel routinely advise parents of English learners who participate in the process through District English Language Advisory Councils, but that’s a little hard to do without all the data.  

One year ago, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant, responding to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and others, castigated the CDE, the Board of Education and State Superintendent of Instruction Tom Torlakson for their lack of response to census data that 20,318 EL students were not receiving the required instruction while taking credit for providing help to 98% of those eligible. 

Judge Chalfant wrote:

“The only meaningful action taken by respondents in response to district reports that EL students were not receiving services has been to modify the reporting mechanism so that it will be impossible for districts to make such admissions in the future.”

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Lawsuit Claims State Refuses to Release Data on English Learners (by Sarah Tully, EdSource)

California Education Officials Sued for Records on English Learners (by Christopher Cadelago, Sacramento Bee)

Lawyers Sue California for School Records (by Nick Cahill, Courthouse News Service)

Civil Rights Groups Sue State for Refusal to Identify Number of Students Struggling to Learn English (pdf)

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area and Public Counsel v. California Department of Education (Sacramento County Superior Court) (pdf)

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