Blog: Latino Ed Beat

North Carolina District Accused of Discriminating Against Spanish-Speaking Families

Two groups charge that the Wake County Public School System in North Carolina has violated the civil rights of Spanish-speaking parents by providing important notices regarding their children only in English.

The Southern Poverty Law Center and Advocates for Children’s Services sent a letter of complaint on Tuesday to school superintendent Tony Tata, reports The News & Observer.

The groups say that three parents did not receive information in Spanish about suspensions and special-education. According to the groups, the parents also did not receive written notice about meetings related to the special education process, or information about their children’s Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). Parents also were not given notices about long-term suspensions and information about how to appeal a decision or pursue alternative education programs, the groups say.

“Despite the presence of a large Spanish-speaking community in the district and the important rights at stake during the special education and discipline processes, WCPSS has failed to develop and implement a system by which written documents are routinely translated and provided to LEP (limited English proficient) parents,” the letter said.

The groups noted that Spanish-language information can increase parent involvement and improve students’ academic performance.

However, the school district’s web site includes a Spanish-language section that has information such as a back to school guide, along with pages about the schools’ before- and after-school programs and vaccine information. In a statement, the superintendent said that the district has been proactive in supporting the needs of Spanish-speaking families through community and media partners.

The  groups requested a number of changes, including that a Spanish-speaking employee be dedicated to work on discipline matters, that a web site be developed in Spanish and that parents are provided information about suspensions and special education in Spanish.

Latino students currently make up about 15  percent of the school system’s 146,000 students. In the district, there are about 11,040 (7.5 percent) classified as limited English proficient and 5,913 (4 percent) students participating in English as a second language courses.

The Southern Poverty Law Center also filed a civil rights complaint last year against the Durham Public Schools in North Carolina accusing the system of discriminating against English language learners and their parents.

The district eventually reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education pledging to make a number of changes, including making interpreters available to parents and creating a communication plan for Spanish-speaking parents.

It appears that the SPLC is on the lookout for districts that don’t appear to provide sufficient Spanish-language services. In your own district, are there interpreters on staff? Do your schools use bilingual staff to translate in person and in documents?

You can read the letter of complaint against Wake County here.