OCR Complaint Claims Milwaukee District Discriminates Against ELLs

By Mary Ann Zehr — August 11, 2009 1 min read
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The office for civil rights of the U.S. Department of Education has received a complaint from the League of United Latin American Citizens of Wisconsin, a Latino advocacy group, that the Milwaukee school district is discriminating against English-language learners. A spokesman for the district told me that OCR hasn’t decided yet if it will investigate the complaint. See coverage in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the July 23 complaint.

A leader of the Latin American citizens league says in the organization’s press release about the complaint that an affiliate in Kenosha, Wis., had filed a similar one with OCR concerning ELLs in the Kenosha Unified School District nearly a decade ago. That complaint spurred OCR to step in and require an improvement plan, and the school district greatly stepped up services for ELLs, the league leader says.

I received a hard copy of the Milwaukee complaint from the school district, which has 87,000 students. The Latin American citizens league lists what it views as nine deficiencies in programs for English-language learners and says the district is violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. I quote all nine purported deficiencies here because I think they can serve as a check list for other districts to judge whether their services for ELLs are up to par, regardless of what may be true about the services in Milwaukee.

—The use of uncertified Spanish/English bilingual and English [as a] Second Language (ESL) teachers —Inadequate number of certified and qualified Spanish/English bilingual, English [as a] Second Language (ESL), Spanish/English bilingual special education teachers, and support staff assigned to the bilingual program —Absence of a Hispanic/Latino history and culturally appropriate K-12 curriculum —Inadequate number of proficient Spanish/English bilingual (oral and written) staff for translation of all school communications —Inadequate guidelines of the bilingual-bicultural program to meet the present needs of the students —Failure of the Milwaukee Public Schools educational system to prepare Spanish/English bilingual students for higher education —Absence of an effective bilingual-biliterate (oral/written) teacher/administrator recruitment, hiring, and retention plan — Ineffective Milwaukee Public Schools application and interview process.

I’ll keep you posted on whether OCR decides the complaint warrants an investigation.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.