ACLU Complaint Says Fresno Unified Fails English Learner Families - GV Wire - Explore. Explain. Expose
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ACLU Complaint Says Fresno Unified Fails English Learner Families



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The ACLU of Northern California says Fresno Unified School District violated the civil rights of English learners and failed to follow California Department of Education and district requirements when it failed to remove language barriers that limit parent participation, including helping the district decide how to allocate its resources.

The complaint, filed Tuesday on behalf of Familias Empoderadas (Empowered Families), is requesting a series of remedies that include employing one-on-one tutors for all long-term English learners and creating a club for parents of English learners.

Fresno Unified spokeswoman Vanessa Ramirez said Wednesday afternoon that the district received the document late Tuesday.

“It would be premature to comment before our team has had time to fully review” it, Ramirez said in an email.

Translation Services Lacking

The ACLU complaint alleges that Fresno Unified:

  • Refused to meet with parents on their preferred Zoom platform, which has more accurate translations than Microsoft Teams and Google Translate. Forcing parents to use the district’s platform exposes them to “possible security threats” because the district’s platform collects surveillance data, the complaint alleges.
  • Failed to provide public documents that have been translated accurately from English to Spanish to make them comprehensible to members of Familias Empoderadas.
  • Created barriers to meaningful participation for parents of English learners.
  • After schools closed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the district failed to communicate effectively with members of district advisory English learner committees concerning committee meetings, and failed to communicate with parents of English learners about remote learning.

Familias Empoderadas, which has been advocating for improvements for English learners, “had to fight to get the Board to even send school board meeting agendas in languages other than English, including access to a publicly-available translation of the District’s Master Plan for English Learners,” the complaint says.

The complaint cites statistics showing that nearly all English learners are failing to meet state standards in English and math, and are likelier to drop out before graduation from high school.

It alleges that English learners have been “marginalized” in the process in which the district determines how to fund programs, known as the Local Control and Accountability Plan.

Those plans are on hold in the 2020-21 school year because of the coronavirus pandemic and have been replaced by another LCAP — the Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan, which districts must present to the Department of Education by September.  Like the original LCAP, the new plan is supposed to have stakeholder participation.

Parents Seek Changes

Among the remedies sought by the ACLU complaint:

  • Training to enable teachers and staff to be culturally competent and sensitive to the needs of English learners.
  • An equitable individualized learning plan for each English learner that will produce progress data monitored by the district.
  • Certified counselors to provide “one-on-one holistic counseling services” for English learners.
  • Dedicated LCAP funding for programs to benefit English learners, including bilingual or dual-language immersion programs for all
    schools with more than 50 English learners.
  • All materials sent to the homes of English learners from the district or the students’ schools should be in their home language and translated by professional and effective services.
  • The district will hire and train professional translators for board and LCAP meetings.
  • Develop a plan on how the district will address these requested remedies and provide quarterly progress reports to the ACLU for the next two school years, and semiannually after that until 2027.

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email