The Office for Civil Rights and English-Language Learners

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 08, 2009 1 min read
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Pressure from the office for civil rights of the U.S. Department of Education pushed the Salt Lake City school district to bolster services for English-language learners, according to a number of teachers who work directly with such students. I interviewed them during a visit there last month. My article, “English-Learners’ Lot Improves With Federal Pressure,” was published on Friday at Education Week.

At the same time, the office for civil rights has recently had a reputation for being soft on enforcement, William L. Taylor, the chairman of the Washington-based Citizens Commission on Civil Rights, told me in an interview for the story. He says he hopes the office will get tougher on enforcement of civil rights for English-language learners and other students under the Obama administration. Taylor said he sees the administration’s picks for jobs in that office as a good sign. Russlyn Ali, former Education Trust vice president, is the new assistant secretary, and Dianne Piche, who was the executive director of the Citizens Commission on Civil Rights, is the new deputy assistant secretary.*

The office for civil rights provided some national statistics for my story about the number of complaints that have been filed concerning ELLs and how many the office is currently in the process of trying to resolve. These are all complaints alleging that school districts are violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by not providing adequate services for ELLs. Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs or activities that receive federal funding.

Number of complaints filed concerning ELLs:

2004: 33
2005: 33
2006: 36
2007: 37
2008: 50
2009: 33

The OCR is currently monitoring compliance agreements involving services for ELLs in 75 school districts. In 38 of those cases, the OCR responded to a complaint. In the other cases, the OCR initiated a compliance review on its own.

*job title was updated.

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