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What Lawmakers and the Courts Have Said About the Education of Language Minorities

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Civil Rights Act, Title VI

"No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."

Bilingual Education Act (Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary
Education Act)

"One of the most acute educational problems in the United States is that which involves millions of children of limited-English-speaking ability ... the urgent need is for ... forward-looking approaches to meet the serious learning difficulties .... Children of limited-English-speaking ability means children who come from environments where the dominant language is other than English."

Programs should be for children from families "with incomes below $3,000 per year or receiving payments under a program of aid to families with dependent children...."

Memorandum clarifying federal policy, Office for Civil Rights, Department of Health, Education, and Welfare

"Where inability to speak and understand the English language excludes national origin-minority group children from effective participation in the educational program offered by a school district, the district must take affirmative steps to rectify the language deficiency in order to open its instructional program to these students ... Any ability group or tracking system ... must be designed to meet such language-skill need as soon as possible and must not operate as an educational dead-end or permanent track."

U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lau v. Nichols

"This class suit brought by non-English-speaking Chinese students against officials responsible for the operation of the San Francisco Unified School District seeks relief against the unequal educational opportunities which are alleged to violate the 14th Amendment. No specific remedy is urged upon us. Teaching English to the students of Chinese ancestry who do not speak the language is one choice. Giving instructions to this group in Chinese is another. There may be others. Petitioner asks only that the Board of Education be directed to apply its expertise to the problem and rectify the situation. ...

"We do not reach the Equal Protection Clause argument which has been advanced but rely solely on 601 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to reverse the Court of Appeals.

"It seems obvious that the Chinese-speaking minority receives less benefits than the English-speaking majority from respondents' school system, which denies them a meaningful opportunity to participate in the educational program. ..."

Reauthorization of the Bilingual Education Act

"Limited-English-speaking ability means ... [having] difficulty speaking and understanding instruction in the English language."

"Program of bilingual education means ... English and, to the extent necessary to allow a child to progress effectively through the educational system, the native language .... Instruction is given with appreciation for the cultural heritage of such children and, with respect to elementary school instruction, [bilingual education] shall be in all courses or subjects of study which will allow a child to progress effectively through the educational system."

"A program of bilingual education may make provision for the voluntary enrollment ... of children whose language is English."

A national advisory council on bilingual education is created; the poverty criteria are dropped.

Policy-clarification report, known as the "Lau remedies," designed to guide
school districts in their efforts to provide equal educational opportunities for language-minority children

School districts found in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act are required, by the office for civil rights, to assess the language dominance of students, and any district with 20 or more other-language students is required to file a compliance plan with the civil-rights office. Elementary students whose dominant language is not English are to be provided an education in their native language until they can participate in an English-language program. Three types of programs are acceptable: bilingual-bicultural, multilingual-multicultural, and transitional bilingual education. Secondary students may be taught using an English-only curriculum, if it can be shown that such a program is as effective as bilingual education. Both groups of students are to be provided intensive, supplementary instruction in English, and the goal is to be accomplished without creating segregated schools for limited-English-speaking students.

Consent decree signed in the case Northwest Arctic School District
v. Califano

The office for civil rights is required as of Sept. 29, 1978, to formalize the Lau remedies or to publish some substitute for them as final regulations.

Reauthorization of the Bilingual Education Act

Limited-English-speaking ability is changed to "limited English proficiency," a term that means having "sufficient difficulty speaking, reading, writing, or understanding the English language to deny such individuals the opportuity to learn successfully in classrooms where the language of instruction is English."

"Program of bilingual education means ... English and, to the extent necessary to allow a child to achieve competence in the English language, the native language, ... and such instruction is given with appreciation for the cultural heritage of such children, and of other children in American society ...."

Forty percent of the children in a program may be those "whose language is English ...."

Proposed rules, known as the "Lau regulations," governing the education
of language-minority children, promulgated by the new Education Department's office for civil rights

The rules, which were never published in final form, were withdrawn in February 1981. They required: "identification of all students with a primary language other than English"; and "assessment to determine whether they are primary-language-superior, comparably limited in both languages, or English superior .... Students who are primary-language-superior must receive bilingual instruction ...; students [in the other categories] must receive special instruction to improve English skills ...; students who are English-superior must receive access to compensatory education. ..."

Bilingual instruction is required "for at least two years"; school districts with 25 or fewer students of one language minority may be granted a waiver from certain provisions of the requirements.

Proposed amendments to the Bilingual Education Act

"Limited English proficiency has precluded many of these children from progressing in school and competing economically and otherwise in an English-speaking society ...; no one educational technique or method for educating children of limited English proficiency through programs of bilingual education has been proven uniformly effective ...; local educational agencies are best prepared to evaluate the needs of such children and develop programs of bilingual education...."

Programs should be "designed to enable children ... to achieve competency in the English language thereby providing such children an opportunity to progress effectively through the educational system.'

School districts may receive grants for no more than five years; priority would be given to "children of limited English proficiency whose usual language is not English."

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