Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

Unhappy Parents of Limited English Proficiency Students: What Can They Really Do?

Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

Unhappy Parents of Limited English Proficiency Students: What Can They Really Do?

Article excerpt


Parents of Limited English Proficiency (LEP) and immigrant students have historically been active in seeking judicial remedies to ensure their children's needs are being met in the classroom. The Supreme Court held in Meyer v. Nebraska that parents have a right to control what their children are taught when a state attempts to limit classroom instruction to the English language.1 Currently, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and the English Language Acquisition Act (ELAA) both emphasize expanded options for parents and parental participation.2,3 Although parental involvement is encouraged, the requirements of the NCLB, the ELAA, and current case law limit the ability of parents' to obtain redress if they are dissatisfied with the methods employed in their children's education.

To illustrate this lack of redress, this paper reviews in section two the history of statutes, case law, and regulations that currently affect LEP students and parents. Section three discusses possible scenarios frustrated parents of LEP students may find themselves in under the NCLB, and analyzes the remedies available. Section four summarizes the previous sections and concludes that remedies are available for an egregious injury, but only at great time and cost.


Brown v. Board of Education established that it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.4 Chinese-American parents' of LEP students used this concept to seek relief against a school district in Lau v. Nichols5 when a school failed to provide supplemental English courses to all of the LEP students. The Court held that equal treatment goes beyond providing everyone with the same facilities and affirmative steps must be taken for all students to have a meaningful education.6

Lau reinforced the 1970 memorandum produced by the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR). This memo directed school districts to take steps to help LEP students overcome language barriers and ensure meaningful participation in the districts' educational programs.7 The OCR enforces Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in federally funded programs.8

The OCR produced another memo to school districts in 1985 outlining the procedures OCR follows in determining compliance with Title VI.9 These considerations include: whether there is a need for the district to provide an alternative program designed to meet the needs of LEP students and whether that program is likely to be effective in meeting the needs of its language minority students.10 This memo was followed by a third in 1991 that adopted the standards set in Casteneda v. Pickard,11 which were that programs to educate LEP children, must be 1) based on a sound educational theory; 2) adequately supported so that the program has a realistic chance of success; and 3) periodically evaluated and revised, if necessary.12

Congress responded to Lau by enacting the Equal Education Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA).13 Specifically, it states that equal educational opportunities cannot be denied by failure to take appropriate action to overcome language barriers that impede equal participation by its students.14

The ELAA, which is Title III of the NCLB, is the most recent legislation concerning LEP students. Its overall purpose is to help LEP students achieve English proficiency, replacing the previously endorsed bilingual education and immigrant programs under the Bilingual Education Act.15 The ELAA achieves their stated purposes through a series of grants made to individual states, which in turn makes sub-grants to local educational agencies to create programs designed to help LEP students.16 An underlying goal is for the LEP students to attain English proficiency so that they will meet the achievement standards their state has to attain under Title I of NCLB. …

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