Part D. Legal Cases Related to English Language Learners

Lau vs. Nichols
A suit filed by Chinese parents in San Francisco in 1974 led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling that identical education does not constitute equal education under the Civil Rights Act. The ruling requires school districts to take "affirmative steps" to overcome educational barriers faced by non-English speakers (Lyons, 1992).

Plyler vs. Doe
The Supreme Court ruled in Plyler v. Doe [457 U.S. 202 (1982)] that undocumented children and young adults have the same right to attend public schools as U.S. citizens and must attend until they reach mandated age.  In addition, the court ruled that public schools may not:  
  • Deny admission to a student during initial enrollment or at any other time on the basis of undocumented status.
  • Treat a student disparately to determine residency.
  • Engage in any practice to “chill” the right of access to school.
  • Require students or parents to disclose or document their immigration status.
  • Make inquiries of students or parents that may expose their undocumented status.
  • Require social security numbers from all students, as this may expose undocumented status.

Castañeda vs. Pickard
In 1981, in the most significant decision regarding the education of language-minority students since Lau v. Nichols, the 5th Circuit Court established a three-pronged test for evaluating programs serving English language learners. According to the Castañeda standard, schools must:
  •  Base their program on educational theory recognized as sound or considered to be a legitimate experimental strategy;
  • Implement the program with resources and personnel necessary to put the theory into practice; and
  • Evaluate programs and make adjustments where necessary to ensure that adequate progress is being made. [648 F. 2d 989 (5th Circuit, 1981)]. 

For more information about these court cases, go to: Court Cases Impacting Limited-English Proficient Students (Appendix A, Online Resources, Item 3)