According to the legislation of the United States that aims to protect human rights, K-12 students have equal rights and opportunities in education, including English language learning. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits all types of discrimination on the basis of people’s background (Sugarman, 2019). The constitutions of all fifty states require the access of students to public education regardless of their gender, race, immigration status, and language skills. In addition, federal governments control educational development and research, provide additional support for high-needs students, and encourage the improvement of local schools’ educational programs (Sugarman, 2019). However, K-12 students may face discrimination when local schools violate The Civil Rights Act and classify students on the basis of their level of language knowledge (Coady et al., 2022). In other words, students with low proficiency in English, including the children of immigrants, are offered other conditions of education, and their access to it is substantially limited.
In general, the equality of English language learners was established through court decisions. Thus, in 1974, Lau v. Nichols case addressed the issue of unequal attitudes to Chinese students in the United States. Education was defined as equal due to the provision of the same facilities and access to the same curriculum for all students. However, Chinese students with poor knowledge of English did not receive additional support, could not reach the same level of proficiency, and could not even receive diplomas (“Lau v. Nichols, 414 US 563 – Supreme Court 1974,” n.d.). While the Ninth Circuit did not find discriminatory actions, the case was subsequently reviewed by the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court stated that non-English speaking students should be provided with supplemental classes as the mastery of language of all students was the goal of education.
Another case demonstrating the protection of K-12 students’ equality is Castañeda v. Pickard of 1978. Roy Castañeda claimed that the Raymondville Independent School District (RISD) discriminate against children based on their knowledge of English and ethnicity through segregation in the classrooms (United States Court of Appeals, n.d). While the case system was initially ruled in favor of RISD, the Court of appeal changed this decision and established the system of programs’ evaluation to make them fully appropriate for non-English speaking students. Finally, one more case dedicated to the violation of The Civil Rights Act is Flores v. Arizona, in which the plaintiffs claim the existence of inappropriate conditions for equal opportunities for all students (Justia, n.d.). The court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and was not appealed.
At the same time, the details of Flores v. Arizona demonstrate that equal protection requires multiple changes in the system. According to the case, there were multiple factors that determined inequality and the inefficiency of existing programs, including a lack of classrooms, an extended number of students, insufficient teaching materials, and a lack of qualified teachers. That is why, in order to ensure the equality of K-12 students on the basis of English language learning, it is essential to ensure the presence of qualified educators who have all the necessary skills and experience for work with non-English speaking students. In this case, the demand for teachers with an English-as-a-second-language degree will rise. Considering this tendency, the provision of instructions related to educating non-English speakers will be included in the curriculum of future teachers. Finally, all states should ensure that schools have enough space and materials to implement supportive programs.
Coady, M.R., Ankeny, B. & Ankeny, R. (2022). Is language a ‘right’ in U.S. education?: Unpacking Castañeda’s reach across federal, state, and district lines. Lang Policy, 2022, 1-25.
Justia. (n.d.). Flores v. Arizona, 160 F. Supp. 2d 1043 (D. Ariz. 2000).
Sugarman, J. (2019). Legal protection for K-12 English learner and immigrant-background students. Migration Policy Institute.
United States Court of Appeals. (n.d). Castañeda v. Pickard.