Office for Civil Rights investigates LAUSD for discrimination

The federal Office for Civil Rights will investigate whether low academic achievement of African American students results from discrimination by the Los Angeles Unified School District, the Los Angeles Times reported.

In a letter to community groups, the Office for Civil Rights disclosed the probe, with details about the investigation. The group will look into services provided to students who are learning English.

Black community leaders welcomed the news at the Southside Bethel Baptist Church in South Los Angeles, but also felt disappointed that the investigation did not come at an earlier time.

“To initially focus on one group and exclude others could have been divisive and counterproductive to overall reform,” the Rev. Eric P. Lee said prior to the forum. “It is unfortunate that it required the civil rights community to demand from the Department of Education that children be provided educational equality.”

The group will focus on English learns because the Los Angeles Unified School District has about 220,000 students, which is more than any other school system in the country. English learners, most of them Latino, make up about a third of students. Black students make up almost 11 percent of enrollment.

Federal officials said they will also pursue potential discrimination concerns involving black students in other parts of the country. They added that their evaluations should benefit all underserved students, but black community leaders are not satisfied. Civil rights leaders have also argued that black children never achieved the equality promised by past reform efforts.

“The message being sent to Los Angeles’ African American community is that the devastation to black students being caused by the failure of public education is of little consequence to you or your department,” a coalition of black leaders wrote in a letter to the federal Department of Education.

Federal analysts have been examining how English learners are identified and when they are judged fluent enough to handle regular course work. Officials will also look at whether English learners have qualified, trained teachers.

The investigation will compare five largely black elementary schools in Carson, View Park and Hawthorne with five largely white elementary schools in Bel-Air, Tarzana, Studio City and Encino.

“Our administration is committed to responding to communities and the civil rights issues they confront for all students,” Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights, wrote in her letter to community leaders.

Federal officials have stressed that poor academic results do not, by themselves, prove discrimination. But federal officials also said discrimination does not have to be intentional to be subject to federal remedies and sanctions.