The Supreme Court case of Lau v. Nichols (1974) pertains to ELL. The court in this case decided that the civil rights act of 1964 were being violated due to the reason that supplemental language was lacking in the public schools for those students who had limited English proficiency. The case was filed when California school system in 1971 was integrated after a federal court decree. It led 2800 Chinese students helpless who did not speak English. They then filed a suit and alleged that they are being deprived of the equal educational opportunities. The court held that this action of the policy change by the school has caused the disparate impact and the civil rights act was being violated. Thus the school must provide appropriate relief to the students.
A public interest lawyer named, Edward H Steinman approached Kinney Kinmon Lau and many other students affected by this move of the school. On his persuasion, a suit was filed against Alan H. Nichols who was the president and other concerned officials. The students took the stance that they must be given special help as they face difficulty in speaking English. Further, the foundation of their stance was fourteenth Amendment and Civil Right Act of 1964. The district court denied providing the relief. Moreover, the decision was also affirmed by the court of appeals. It argued that the policy change was uniform and it was not to intentionally discriminate the students. The students finally approached the Supreme Court.
“ No state shall deny equal educational opportunity to an individual on account of his or her race, color, sex or national origin by…(f) the failure by an educational agency to take appropriate action to overcome language barrier that impede equal participation by its students in its instructional programs” (Education Law Center, 2011).
The Supreme Court in its decision held that the civil rights of the students were being violated. It did not examine the 14th amendment clause of equal protection. It affirmed the disparate impact of the school’s policy on the non-English speaking students. A disparate impact as referred by the labor law is an adverse impact caused to one group of people due to certain practices, even though the employer thinks that those practices are formally neutral. The court concluded that as they face difficulties in understanding the English language, this will deprive them of attaining “meaningful” education. The court also relied on the guidelines promulgated by the office for civil rights (OCR) of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1970, which provides that one of the proxies for discrimination can be language. Thus, the Supreme Court concluded that the necessary steps must be taken by the school to facilitate non-English speakers.
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The bilingual education program was introduced to facilitate students so that they can get the meaningful education. However, this law was replaced by “No Child left behind Act”. The transformation from Bilingual education program to NCLB was made at national level. It requires the districts to evaluate the progress of every student. It further required that the fluency of teachers in English teaching in Bilingual education programs along with their native language. It provided discretion to the parents so that they could have enrolled their children for maximum 3 years in Bilingual Education program. However, it required that after the completion of three years, the mode of instructions must be switched to English, without considering the matter of English ability a student possess at that time.
Impact of the decision:
This case contains a significant importance in the bilingual education history. The Supreme Court, in this case, set the precedent showing the emergence of disparate impact due to civil rights act violations. It prohibited the “sink and swim” policy and it was later followed by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 which made it mandatory for educational institutes to ensure the equal participation of all the students and remove any barriers to it. As a result of this case, Lau remedies were developed, these were the guidelines for the schools to follow so that meaningful education could be provided to the English learning students. However, Lau decision has also faced certain challenges as well. For instance, in another case of the Supreme Court named Alexander v. Sandoval 532 U.S. The court has changed its course. According to this case, the burden of proof lies on the plaintiff. The plaintiff has to prove the intentional discrimination. He possesses no right which might enable him to sue against disparate impact. It means that the school policies which might cause disparate impact cannot be sued as it was done in the Lau decision.
In a nutshell, Lau decision provided a space to those students struggling for the meaningful education and the equal Education policy. The decision led the management of the school to rethink its actions. The policies were revised to facilitate the ELL students in recognition of the Equal Education policies. The law was further refined with the passage of time such as NCLB act. These laws have not only facilitated English language learners in attaining the meaningful education but also have provided systematic guidelines to be pursued by the districts to provide equal educational opportunities to the students.
Lau v. Nichols. (2018). En.wikipedia.org. Retrieved 19 March 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lau_v._Nichols
Anon (2018). Www-tc.pbs.org. Retrieved 19 March 2018, from https://www-tc.pbs.org/beyondbrown/brownpdfs/launicho
Home | Education Law Center. (2018). Edlawcenter.org. Retrieved 19 March 2018, from http://www.edlawcenter.org/