Groups charge Wake schools discriminate against Spanish-speakers

khui@newobserver.comMay 8, 2012 

Two advocacy groups are threatening to file a federal civil rights complaint against the Wake County school system over allegations that Spanish-speaking families are being discriminated against by not receiving information in their native language.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Wake County Superintendent Tony Tata, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Advocates for Children’s Services charge that the school system is violating the civil rights of students with Spanish-speaking parents by sending them important notices only in English. The letter cites examples of three limited English proficient parents who did not get information in Spanish about their children’s long-term suspension notices and special-education services.

Click here to view the complaint letter sent Tuesday.

“This issue is not only about protecting the civil rights of students and parents, but also about the mission, vision, and core beliefs of Wake County schools,” Jason Langberg, an attorney for Advocates for Children’s Services, a project of Legal Aid of N.C., said in a written statement. “Adequate translation for LEP (limited English proficient) parents is very much about student achievement, parent involvement, equity, and valuing diversity.”

School officials responded Tuesday by pointing to various efforts they have undertaken to reach out to Spanish-speaking families. In one example, they cited how they send Spanish-language versions of most communications, including student handbooks, information about a student’s due process and the availability of special education.

“We have been proactively engaging all students and families in the Wake County Public School System, including those in the Latino community,” Tata said in a written statement. “As a district, WCPSS has developed relationships with key community groups, leaders and media partners to support the needs of our Spanish-speaking families.”

Those efforts are not enough for the advocacy groups, who contend that failure to provide parents of Hispanic students with information in their primary language violates Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based of national origin. The groups charge that Wake “has a clear legal duty” to provide documents on suspensions and special education in Spanish to Spanish-speaking parents.

The NAACP also has charged Wake with violating Title VI in a complaint being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Federal investigators are looking into Wake’s elimination of its policy of busing for socioeconomic diversity and whether the district is disproportionately suspending minority students from school.

The Hispanic population represents the fastest-growing segment of the school district, now accounting for 15 percent of Wake’s 146,000 students.

The groups suggest Wake make several changes to avoid having a complaint filed. They include:

• Hire a Spanish-speaking staff member to work exclusively on discipline-related matters.

• Develop a website in Spanish that mirrors both the Office of Student Due Process website and the Special Education Services website.

• Provide all parents and guardians whose primary language is Spanish with forms, packets and information related to special-education, suspension or expulsion in Spanish.

Hui: 919-829-4534

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service