AALDEF Demands Justice for Iowa Student Disciplined for Protesting English Proficiency Testing

Tuesday, Mar 31, 2009

Honor student deemed an English Language Learner for declaring Lao as her home language

New York, NY -- The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), which is representing Iowa honors student Lori Phanachone, has called for the removal of all references to disciplinary action from her school record after she refused to take an English Language Learner (ELL) test. Phanachone was mislabeled an English Language Learner (ELL) after naming Lao as her home language.

Khin Mai Aung, the AALDEF staff attorney representing the student, said: "Lori Phanachone is an honor student who has excelled in mainstream classes throughout her life, and happens to speak Lao as her home language. Storm Lake has improperly conflated my client's knowledge of Lao with lack of fluency in English."

The Storm Lake School District, which did not assess Ms. Phanachone's English level when she enrolled two years ago, has since subjected her to a yearly test for ELLs. The 3.98 GPA senior did not receive English as a Second Language or other ELL services before moving to Storm Lake as a sophomore. Since matriculating in Storm Lake, Ms. Phanachone has excelled in advanced courses-all of which were taught in English. This year, she boycotted the yearly ELL test in protest. As a result, Ms. Phanachone was suspended for 3 days and threatened with the loss of National Honor Society membership, exclusion from school activities including the track team, prom and other extracurricular activities, as well as further disciplinary action.

Lori Phanachone said: "Storm Lake labeled me an English Language Learner when I enrolled without even bothering to test me. All I want is to continue my education without the school labeling me unfairly."

Among other things, AALDEF demands that the Storm Lake School District:

  • Remove all references to Lori Phanachone's suspension and other disciplinary action from her school records;
  • Assure in writing that it will not impose further disciplinary action on her;
  • Clarify Storm Lake's procedures for classifying students as ELL upon enrollment;
  • Explain how and why Lori Phanachone was classified as an ELL under Storm Lake's classification procedures; and
  • Reclassify Lori Phanachone, and other affected students if appropriate under Iowa and federal law, as English proficient.

For more information:
Khin Mai Aung
Staff Attorney
212.966.5932 ext. 219
kaung@aaldef.org