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LAUSD Makes Civil Rights Improvements

The Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights enforced its first action on LAUSD under the Obama administration.

Even before the federal Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights ended its 19-month compliance review of potential civil rights violations in the Los Angeles Unified School District, district leaders knew they had to change their program for ELLs and other students.

Following the launch of the investigation in March 2010, the civil rights office determined in October 2010 that ELLs and black students were not getting the services they were entitled to under the law. Subsequently, the office and the district agreed upon a Voluntary Resolution Agreement, the result of the department’s first proactive civil rights enforcement action under the Obama administration. “This historic agreement for students in LAUSD is the result of an exceptional federal and local collaboration. It’s a coming together, without blame, to lay a vision for what is right,” says Russlyn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights for the Department of Education.

LAUSD’s case is among 74 compliance reviews of K12 districts and higher education institutions that the office is handling, along with more than 7,800 complaints from individuals and groups in the last year, as of late September 2011.

The master plan focuses particularly on secondary students in the Preparation for Reclassification Program (PRP), who have completed the ELL six-year program but have not been deemed proficient.

As a result, LA Deputy Superintendent Jaime Aquino says the district learned on its own that it needed to ensure all teachers focus on both content and explicit language instruction. This will mean providing more professional development for such teachers. The resolution calls for implementing meaningful professional development geared at strengthening instruction to ELLs, communicating with ELL parents so they understand the EL program and their children’s academic progress, and ensuring that ELLs and their parents have access to college and career-ready curricula and have the information they need to prepare for success in higher education and careers.

The resolution also calls for the district to ensure that African-American students are more fairly evaluated for gifted and talented programs, takes steps to eliminate inadequate and disproportionate discipline practices against blacks as compared to white students, and renews its focus on identifying the academic English needs of students and ensuring they can graduate college and are career ready. The district has until the next school year to comply, Aquino says. If it does not, says Ali, the federal government can terminate its funding or follow through in court.