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Federal Judge Says School District Flunks Its Obligation to Educate Students Who Don’t Speak English by Making Them Take Class Taught Only In English

A decision issued by federal Judge Edward G. Smith in Pennsylvania last Friday confirms our faith in the ability of the legal system to get it right. The issue was whether 5 students living in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, who came from Somalia, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burma had a right to attend a school run by the Lancaster County School District that includes a program to teach English to non-English speakers. The School District forced the children to attend a separate, academically inferior high school run by a for-profit corporation under contract with the School District. None of the students speaks English. All instruction at the separate school is in English. Judge Smith said that “[o]n its face, this practice appears to be counterintuitive; expert testimony confirmed that the practice was unsound.”

Judge Smith held that the students had made out a strong case that the School District had violated state and federal law and issued a preliminary injunction in their favor. Speaking of the students, he said: “They all escaped violence and tumult in their home and other lands. Now in America, all earnestly seek to learn English, advance their education, and contribute to society.”

We never applaud judges for getting it right, because that’s their job, but we are grateful. We are also grateful to the Education Law Center, the ACLU of PA and the law firm of Pepper Hamilton for bringing the case on a pro bono basis. Anyone who would like to read Judge Smith’s decision can find a copy here (https://www.aclupa.org/download_file/view_inline/2806/1030/).