Groups File DOJ Complaint on Failing Language Services in New Orleans Schools

Friday, Aug 2, 2013

Asian American and Latino students and parents speak out on ineffective ESL services and language access systems at New Orleans Schools

Thumbnail image for Classroom.jpgNew Orleans - On Friday, August 2, the Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association (VAYLA) and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) held a press conference to announce their complaint to the Department of Justice on behalf of limited-English proficient students and their parents in New Orleans schools. The complaint alleges that the school district has violated Title VI in failing to meet the language needs of Asian American and Latino limited-English proficient (LEP) students.  District-wide, these students and their families have been underserved, severely damaging their quality of education and putting them at a huge disadvantage to attaining success in their schools. Along with parents and community members, students from Youth Organizing Unity (YOU2), one of VAYLA's youth-led education equity campaigns, hosted the press conference and spoke about their struggles for language access and services in the educational system.

"We're tired of being used by the system," said Karina Fortanel, a junior at a local state-run high school and a YOU2 member, who has been used, along with other students, as an impromptu translator for parents when districts and schools don't have their own translators. "I'm hopeful that in the future no other students will have to be put in a classroom that doesn't serve them."

The DOJ complaint is the culmination of more than two years of investigation by VAYLA, AALDEF, and YOU2 youth leaders into the educational equity and access issues for limited-English speaking communities in New Orleans. Earlier this year in May, YOU2 released a report, ESL: Lost in the System, documenting the rights violations that English Language Learners (ELLs) and their families have endured at many of their schools. The filing is the next step in a campaign to hold schools accountable for providing the highest quality of language services to students and language access for parents.

"Without meaningful language access, parents have been held back from participating in their children's education and even monitoring their children's well-being," said Thomas Mariadason, staff attorney with the Educational Equity Program at AALDEF. "Immigrant families, like all families, must be able to ensure their children are receiving the equal educational opportunities they are legally afforded. We are optimistic that our complaint will prompt schools to begin removing the barriers English language learner students currently face."

"For too long students, parents, and community members have been affected by issues with navigating schools that are not equipped to support their participation or their children," said Minh Nguyen, VAYLA Executive Director. "Not only do we want to bring attention to the problems within this system, we want to be a part of the solution. By sharing our recommendations to improve the learning experiences for limited-English proficient students and families, we hope to create a school system that truly values them. The complaint being filed today represents our commitment to education equity for students and families across New Orleans who deserve a truly high quality education." 

Cristi Wijngaarde, VAYLA, 504-575-6333,
Ujala Sehgal, AALDEF, 212-966-5932 ext.217,

Download the complaint >


YOU2 (Youth Organizing Unity), a program of VAYLA, is a Raise Your Hand Campaign youth organizing initiative that has been working to promote ESL rights across New Orleans to support students that need assistance with learning the English language and prevent them from being treated unfairly. YOU2 is devoted to protecting the educational rights of immigrant students and parents by addressing the absence of translation, interpretation, and quality English Language Learner programs at many of the city's public and charter schools.


The Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association of New Orleans (VAYLA) is a youth-led community-based organization that empowers Vietnamese American and underrepresented youth through supportive services and organizing for cultural enrichment and positive social change. Committed to youth development, community empowerment, higher education, and cultural awareness, VAYLA is composed of young leaders, high school and college students that want to engage and empower others educationally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.


The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), founded in 1974, is a national organization that protects and promotes the civil rights of Asian Americans.  By combining litigation, advocacy, education, and organizing, AALDEF works with Asian American communities across the country to secure human rights for all.