Covering Louisiana

Oct 12, 2012 11:02 AM by AP

Feds probing Jefferson Parish school bias claims

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Federal officials are investigating allegations by the Southern Poverty Law Center that Jefferson Parish public schools discriminate against Latino students, the law center said Thursday.

In a letter dated Sept. 27, the Justice Department's civil rights division and the Education Department's office for civil rights said they haven't reached any conclusions about the law center's claims that the school system has violated federal anti-discrimination laws.

"States and districts cannot apply different rules, or apply the same rules differently, to children based on their parents' actual or perceived race, color, national origin, citizenship, immigration status, or other impermissible factor," the agencies wrote.

The law center filed a complaint in August on behalf of 16 Latino students and their families, accusing the district of creating a hostile environment for Latino students by allowing employees to harass them about their citizenship status.

In its complaint, the law center accused the school district of failing to provide adequate translation services to Latino students and their parents. The complaint also claims the district requires students to provide proof of their U.S. citizenship or immigration status as a condition of enrollment and graduation.

The school system has said that serving "English Language Learners" has been a priority for the district.

"Our data supports academic gains among 3rd-8th-grade Limited English Proficient students over a four-year period," it said in a statement in August after the complaint was filed.

Latino students account for 17 percent of the district's student population.

Jennifer Coco, an attorney for the law center, said the investigation is a "significant step toward protecting the rights of these students."

"The Jefferson Parish School System must recognize these Latino students have the same rights as their English-speaking counterparts," she said in a statement.

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