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Legal Precedents for English Learners and Newcomers

English Learners and Newcomers

Office for Civil Rights

Office for Civil Rights - Title VI states that "No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."May 25th MemorandumAlthough the May 25th Memorandum required school districts to take affirmative steps, it did not prescribe the content of these steps. However, the Memorandum explained that Title VI is violated if:


  • Students are excluded from effective participation in school because of the inability to speak and understand the language of instruction;
  • National origin minority students who are limited English proficient are mis-assigned to classes for the mentally retarded on the basis of criteria which essentially measure or evaluate English language skills;
  • Programs for students whose English is less than proficient are not designed to teach them English as soon as possible, or operate as a dead-end track; or
  • Parents whose English is limited are not adequately notified of school activities which are called to the attention of other parents.

Lau v. Nichols, 1974

In Lau v. Nichols (1974), the Supreme Court ruled that in order for school districts to comply with their legal obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), they must take affirmative steps to ensure that ELs can meaningfully participate in their educational programs and services.  (Chapter 2, page 2)

Plyler v. Doe (1982)

In Plyler v. Doe (1982), the Supreme Court ruled that states cannot constitutionally deny students a free public education based on their immigration status. (Chapter 2, page 2)

Castañeda v. Pickard (1981)

In Castañeda v. Pickard (1981), the Fifth Circuit Court established a three-part test to evaluate the adequacy of a district’s program for ELs, and that test is used by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in evaluating school districts’ and states’ compliance with the civil rights laws. (Chapter 2, page 2)