- Associated Press - Monday, June 15, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - A ruling by a federal appeals court Monday has all but ended a two-decade legal fight over Arizona’s program for teaching English to children in schools.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Arizona on Monday in the English-as-a-second language case. Arizona believes its program to educate students who don’t speak English fluently meets all the necessary requirements, but opponents say it’s a deeply flawed policy.

They believe the state’s required four hours of daily instruction for non-English speakers illegally segregates students and holds them back.

The judges upheld a decision by a lower court that was in favor of the state. The court cited improvements in its English program and noted Arizona has a new slate of statewide leaders.

The court said those improvements included the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Program, and the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards or AIMs test, which has since been replaced with AzMERIT, short for Arizona’s Measurement of Educational Readiness to Inform Teaching.

Arizona has been immersed in a series of court battles spanning more than 20 years over how to teach English to Spanish-speaking schoolchildren. The legal fights went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and also included disputes in the Legislature and at the ballot box.

The case hinges on first-generation Hispanic families whose children grow up in Spanish-speaking households and begin to learn English when they start school. Miriam Flores, a lead plaintiff, joined the case on behalf of her daughter in 1996 after deciding the school programs offered for English Language Learners in heavily Hispanic Nogales were underfunded and inadequate.

In the appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the four-hour English language classes were a statewide violation of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act, which prevents discrimination and segregation.

“English Language Learners who are stuck in English class for four hours a day aren’t entitled to get the academic content that the others students receive,” said Tim Hogan, an attorney who represented the plaintiffs for 20 years.

But the appeals court concluded that Arizona is not violating the Equal Educational Opportunities Act on a regular basis and that the plaintiffs’ lacked evidence to bring a claim against the entire state. It listed examples how individual districts offer after-school programs and summer school to Spanish-speaking students and work to place them in math classes while they learn English.

“This district-by-district implementation of a general, state-mandated educational framework is consistent with the requirements of the (Equal Education Opportunities Act),” the justices wrote.

In a concurring opinion, Judge Michelle Friedland addressed the claims of segregations more directly.

“It is not impermissible segregation to group students by language ability as long as there is a legitimate educational reason for doing so,” she wrote.

Hogan said it’s “too early to tell” if the case is finished for good, but admitted his options to pursue the case further are limited.

The State Department of Education did not immediately return a request for comment, but is currently reviewing the case.

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Information from: Arizona Capitol Times, https://www.arizonacapitoltimes.com

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