Legal History Of Bilingual Education

This module presents an overview of the major federal and state laws and landmark decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal and state courts regarding bilingual education in the United States and California.

The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

This amendment established the constitutional basis for the educational rights of language minority students. Guaranteed that no State can make or enforce any law abridging the privileges or immunities of citizens; nor deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law; nor deny equal protection of the laws.

Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)

Overruled the decision in Plessy v. Ferguson of 1896 that has permitted "separate but equal" education for Negro children. This decision declared the separation of Negro and White students to be unconstitutional and ordered desegregation of schools. Established the principle of equal educational opportunity for all students: "…where a state has undertaken to provide an opportunity for an education in its public schools, such opportunity is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms." 

Title VI Civil Rights Act of 1964

Prohibited discrimination in Federally funded programs. Subsequently cited in many court cases. Basically stated that a student has a right to meaningful and effective instruction.

Bilingual Education Acts of 1968 and 1974

Also known as Title VII. Provided supplemental funding for school districts interested in establishing programs to meet the "special educational needs" of large numbers of children of limited English speaking ability in the United States.

May 25, 1970 Memorandum

The Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) issued an interpretation of the Title VII regulations that prohibited the denial of access to educational programs because of a student’s limited English proficiency.

Equal Educational Opportunity Act of 1974

Provided definitions of what constituted denial of equal educational opportunity. Among them is "…the failure by an educational agency to take appropriate action to overcome language barriers that impede equal participation by students in an instructional program."

Lau vs. Nichols 1974

The US Supreme Court reaffirmed the 1970 Memorandum regarding denial of access and participation in an educational program due to inability to speak or understand English in a class action suit brought by Chinese speaking students in San Francisco against the school district.

"There is no equality of treatment by providing students with the same facilities, textbooks, teachers and curriculum, for students who do not understand English are effectively foreclosed from any meaningful education."

"Basic English skills are at the very core of what public schools teach. Imposition of a requirement that, before a child can effectively participate in the educational program, he must already have acquired those basic skills is to make a mockery of public education."

Lau Remedies 1975

HEW established some basic guidelines for schools with Limited English Proficient (LEP) students. Discontinued by the Reagan Administration.

Civil Rights Language Minority Regulations 1980

Regulations including four basic components: Identification, assessment, services and exit. Requirement that bilingual instruction be given by qualified teachers.

Castañeda vs. Pickard 1981

Set the standard for the courts in examining programs for LEP students. Basically districts must have:

1. A pedagogically sound plan for LEP students.

2. Sufficient qualified staff to implement the plan (includes hiring of new staff and training of current staff).

3. A system established to evaluate the program.

Castañeda did not require bilingual education programs to meet these standards. It required only that "appropriate action to overcome language barriers" be taken through well implemented programs.

Idaho vs. Migrant Council 1981

Established the legal responsibility of the State Department of Education to monitor implementation of programs for LEP students.

Plyler v. Doe 1981

The US Supreme Court reasoned that illegal aliens and their children, though not citizens of the United States or Texas, are people "in any ordinary sense of the term" and, therefore, are afforded Fourteenth Amendment protections. The state law severely disadvantaged the children of illegal aliens by denying them the right to an education. Texas could not prove that the regulation was needed to serve a "compelling state interest" so Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional, allowing illegal immigrant children a free public education.

Denver vs. School District No. 1 (Denver) 1983

Used Castañeda vs. Pickard decision to evaluate the district program for LEP students.

Illinois vs. Gómez 1987

State responsibility includes establishing and enforcing minimums for implementation of language remediation programs; requirements for the redesignation of students from LEP to FEP (Fluent English Proficient) status.

Teresa P. vs. Berkeley Unified 1987

Used Castañeda vs. Pickard decision to evaluate the district program for LEP students.

Legal History of Bilingual Education in California

Below are the important dates that mark turning points in the history of bilingual education in California.

1967 Governor Ronald Reagan signs SB 53, the legislation allowing the use of other languages of instruction in California public schools. This bill overturned the 1872 law requiring English-only instruction.

1974 Chacón-Moscone Bilingual-Bicultural Education Act established transitional bilingual education programs to meet the needs of limited English proficient (LEP) students. Program requirements follow federal guidelines for identification, program placement and reclassification of students as fluent English proficient (FEP).

1981 Bilingual Education Act strengthened, spelling out in great detail the obligations of school districts to language minority students.

1986 Governor Deukmejian vetoes AB 2813 to extend the bilingual education into law.

1987 Governor Deukmejian again rejects a reauthorization bill and the bilingual education law is allowed to expire. The Sunset Provisions of the law go into effect. School districts continue to enforce the provisions of Chacón-Moscone without a clear mandate to do so.

1996 Four school districts in California are granted "waivers" by the State Board of Education exempting them from compliance with the provisions of the Bilingual Education Act. The waivers allowed the districts to establish "sheltered English immersion" programs and to dismantle their bilingual education programs.

1997 The Orange Unified School District is sued in California State Court in Sacramento in Quiroz et al. vs. State Board of Education by plaintiffs claiming that LEP students' rights are violated by the school district waivers for English-only instruction.

March 1998 Judge Robie rules that the State Board of Education was not authorized to grant waivers to the expired Bilingual Education Act. Further, the ruling stated that Orange Unified School District did not have to provide bilingual education under California law; only federal legal requirements for educating language minority children applied.

May 1998 Governor Pete Wilson vetoes Senate Bill 6. SB 6 contained many of the provisions of the Chacón-Moscone law but granted flexibility to school districts to use bilingual education or English immersion according to local needs and preferences.

June 3, 1998 Passage of Proposition 227 virtually banning bilingual education except under certain special conditions and establishing a one-year "sheltered immersion" program for all LEP students.

Post-227 Legislation and Legal Requirements

July 1998 A request for an injunction against implementation of Proposition 227 in Valeria G. v. Wilson is denied by Judge Charles Legge of U.S. District Court in San Francisco. The ruling is based on precedents established in Castañeda v. Pickard that allowed "sequential" programs for teaching English language and then academic content such as the "structured English immersion" design of Proposition 227. However, Judge Legge's ruling clarifies school districts' obligation to language minority students to "recoup" any academic deficit that occurred while students are learning English within a reasonable period of time until LEP students are achieving academically at a level comparable to their English-speaking peers.

April 1999 the California State Board of Education eliminates the redesignation criteria formerly in place for classification of a limited English proficient student from LEP to Fluent English Proficient (FEP). Each of the 1,000 school districts is now required to set their own criteria for classifying students as fluent English speakers. A state-sponsored English Language Development test and linked to the ELD Standards was developed based on the Escutia Bill (1996).

July 1999 The SBOE adopts the English Language Development Standards that are coordinated with the Language Arts/Reading Content Standards (1999). These standards provide a framework for program design and development and purchase of supporting instructional materials.

January 2006 A study by AIR/WestEd on the impact of Proposition 227 after five years of implementation shows that assessment data do not show a significant difference in English-only versus bilingual education approaches to instructing English Language Learners.

April 2014 SB 1174 (Lara) is passed to place an initiative on the November 2016 election ballot to overturn most provisions of Proposition 227.