Guest blog post by Jaclyn Zubrzycki
The U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights (OCR) will investigate whether the Wake County public schools in North Carolina are discriminating against English-language learners and their parents by not providing adequate translations of important documents, according to a letter from OCR team leader Olabisi L. Okubadejo dated June 27 and addressed to representatives from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Legal Aid of North Carolina. The legal advocacy organizations announced the investigation today.
The investigation is in response to a complaint filed against the district last month by the SPLC and Legal Aid, as we reported. The civil rights groups allege that the school system does not always provide adequate translations of documents such as notices of long-term suspensions or special education materials to Spanish-speaking parents.
“This is good news for all Latino students in Wake County schools whose parents have limited English proficiency,” said Legal Aid attorney Peggy Nicholson in a press release. The district had said it would evaluate its practices and policies regarding translations when the complaint was initially filed in June.
The office for civil rights is already investigating Wake County’s student assignment and suspension policies, following a complaint filed by the NAACP in 2010. The district must uphold federal civil rights statutes, including Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, because it receives federal funds. Of course, an investigation does not mean that the OCR has already determined that the case has merit.
Because of similar complaints lodged by Southern Poverty Law Center last year against the public schools in Durham, N.C., a district that neighbors the schools in Wake County, OCR stepped in to investigate. Last fall, the district and OCR struck a voluntary resolution agreement to improve communications with a large and growing population of immigrants, most of whom speak Spanish.
The district is standing by the statement it released when the complaint was filed last month, included below. “We are talking and actively working with the OCR and are eager to resolve the complaint,” said district spokesman Michael Charbonneau.
Statement from Wake County Public School System:
The Wake County Public School System is committed to providing support for all parents with limited English proficiency, regardless of their primary language. WCPSS staff, from the central office to the school level, are actively reviewing our practices to ensure we are meeting families' needs at every opportunity. "When these organizations brought the initial complaint to WCPSS in May, district administrators and our attorney did meet with their representatives to discuss the services we currently offer, and plans to continue expanding those services. They indicated they were impressed with these efforts. We are also investigating the three cases they have identified to determine whether we can make any changes to better serve our families. "We are disappointed that the organizations have chosen to file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights, but our district is eager to work with OCR staff to resolve the complaint."
The district also responded with a list of programs and services for English-language learners and their families, which you can find over at the News & Observer.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.