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Access to Education

During the 1940s and 1950s, two court cases changed the face of education in the United States:

In 1945, Mendez v. Westminster ended segregation of Hispanic school children in Orange County, Calif.

Read the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision ending segregation of Hispanic children in public schools. 

In 1954, Brown v. Board of Education ended segregation in all public schools.

Despite these changes, discrepancies of equal education rights remained, especially for Hispanic students. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, legislation was passed to address and eliminate barriers to a quality education for all.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination in federally funded programs and stated that a student has a right to meaningful and effective instruction.

Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act

The Bilingual Education Act, first passed in 1968, provided supplemental funding for school districts to establish programs that meet the "special education needs" of students with limited English proficiency.

The Bilingual Education Act: Language Minority Students and Equal Educational Opportunity
This article form the Bilingual Research Journal follows the Bilingual Education Act from its initial passage in 1968 through the 1994 reauthorization.

The Equal Educational Opportunity Act of 1974 provided definitions of what constituted denial of equal educational opportunity. Among them is "…the failure by an educational agency to take appropriate action to overcome language barriers that impede equal participation by students in an instructional program."

In 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lau v. Nichols that basic English skills are at the core of what public schools teach. "Imposition of a requirement that before a child can effectively participate in the educational program, he must already have acquired those basic skills is to make a mockery of public education."

Read the Supreme Court decision of one of the most important cases for language-minority students.

In 1981, the Fifth Circuit Court developed a three-prong test known as the Castañeda test to assess the adequacy of a school district's program for ELL stuidents with its decision in Castañeda v. Pickard . The three criteria are:

  • Is the program based on an educational theory recognized as sound by some experts in the field or considered by experts as a legitimate experimental strategy?
  • Are the programs and practices, including resources and personnel, reasonably calculated to implement this theory effectively?
  • Does the school district evaluate its programs and make adjustments where needed to ensure language barriers are actually being overcome?

Read the full text of the Castañeda ruling.

In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Plyer v. Doe that a Texas statute denying school enrollment to children of illegal immigrants violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Schools are not permitted to use children's immigration status to exclude them from schooling.

Read the full text of the Plyler ruling.