Educational Equity

Related Program: Educational Equity

Complaints filed on behalf of Milena Clarke with Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education (Philadelphia) and Department of Justice. Milena Clarke is a former middle school student in Russell Middle School of the Russell Independent School District (RISD) in Russell, Kentucky. While participating in RISD’s basketball program, Milena was racially harassed by teammates who used ethnic slurs against her and Milena’s African American friends from other schools. The harassment extended to school hallways and even became physical. Milena’s coaches were made aware of the harassment but did not intervene, even as it persisted for nearly 2 years. School officials took steps to penalize Milena and her family for speaking up. AALDEF filed complaints with U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the complaint.

Complaints filed with Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education (Dallas) and Department of Justice on behalf of English language learner students and limited English proficient parents in New Orleans. In conjunction with the Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association (VAYLA), AALDEF filed complaints with U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and the U.S. Department of Justice, alleging that Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) and the Recovery School District (RSD) violated Title VI in failing to meet the language needs of Asian American and Latino limited-English proficient 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. The U.S. Department of Education investigated the complaint.

New Orleans Language Access Complaints
In 2013, AALDEF filed administrative complaints with the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and U.S Department of Justice (DOJ) against two school districts and several charter school operators to address widespread Title VI violations for failing to meet the language needs of Asian American and Latino limited-English proficient (LEP) students. Across both Recovery School District (RSD) and Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) schools, students and their families were underserved, severely damaging their quality of education and putting them at a huge disadvantage to attaining success in their schools. After more than two years of investigation by VAYLA and AALDEF and as part of a broader campaign on language access and ESL programs in New Orleans East, AALDEF filed the complaint on behalf of thirty-five Vietnamese- and Spanish-speaking parents and students. In the Fall 2013, AALDEF was notified by DOE’s Office of Civil Rights Dallas Office that an investigation was underway. AALDEF and VAYLA continue to monitor the situation and await action by DOE and the named charter operators and school districts.

Read more about the New Orleans Language Access Complaints here.

South Philadelphia High School Anti-Asian Harassment Complaints And Settlements
In 2010, AALDEF filed administrative complaints with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) to address the widespread harassment of Asian immigrant students at South Philadelphia High School (SPHS). The complaints were triggered by events on December 3, 2009 in which large numbers of Asian immigrant students from SPHS were assaulted in and around the school throughout the day. The attacks followed years of harassment against Asian students at SPHS after which school and district officials repeatedly turned a blind eye. In the days following the attacks, over 50 Asian students participated in an eight-day boycott to protest the unsafe school environment and indifference of school officials to racial harassment. Working closely with students and community-based organizations, AALDEF’s advocacy achieved precedent-setting agreements at the federal and state level, requiring the School District of Philadelphia to take numerous steps to identify, address and prevent bias-based harassment. AALDEF monitored the resulting federal settlement in partnership with local Asian American community-based organizations, which culminated in June 2012.

Read about AALDEF’s South Philadelphia High School DOJ and PHRC cases:
AALDEF Summary of DOJ Complaint [pdf]
Settlement Agreement [pdf]

Lori Phanachone Suspension Case
In 2009, AALDEF represented Lori Phanachone, a Storm Lake, Iowa honors student who was suspended, stripped of her National Honor Society membership and threatened with exclusion from the prom and extracurriculars for protesting her unlawful classification as an English Language Learner. Storm Lake deemed Phanachone an English Language Learner for identifying her home language as Laotian upon her transfer to the school district, although she had previously excelled academically as a mainstream student. Pursuant to AALDEF’s intervention, Phanachone and similarly affected students were reclassified as mainstream students, her National Honor Society membership was restored, and her suspension was purged from her permanent academic record.

Read AALDEF’s press releases on Phanachone’s case:
AALDEF Commends Iowa School District’s New English Language Learner Classification Policy (June 25, 2009) [pdf]
AALDEF Commends Iowa School District’s Decision to Restore Honors and Reclassify Laotian American Student As English Proficient (April 8, 2009)
AALDEF Demands Reinstatement of Iowa Student’s National Honor Society Membership After Unjust Discipline (April 6, 2009)
AALDEF Demands Justice for Iowa Student Disciplined for Protesting English Proficiency Testing (Mar 31, 2009)

Horne v. Flores, United States Supreme Court Amicus Brief
AALDEF filed an amicus brief in March 2009 protecting English Language Learner (ELL) rights under the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA) in a United States Supreme Court case concerning funding equity for ELL programs in Nogales, AZ. The Arizona state education department and legislature are challenging a 2001 judgment in favor of plaintiff ELL students, arguing that an EEOA violation cannot be sustained when No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements are met and that federal courts have overstepped their bounds to interfere with state and local policymakers. In collaboration with pro bono counsel from Covington and Burling, AALDEF and Asian American youth groups from the NAAEA Network argued that Asian ELLs’ needs are so diverse that mere NCLB compliance is insufficient to protect their civil rights.

Read the brief:
Horne v. Flores Amicus Brief [pdf]

Commonwealth v. A.I. and A.W., Juveniles, Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Amicus Brief
In February 2009, AALDEF filed an amicus brief before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court challenging the constitutionality of a juvenile curfew ordinance in Lowell, MA. Our arguments highlight the ordinance’s adverse policy and community impact on Lowell’s Southeast Asian and Latino communities. We are co-counseling with the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts, Juvenile Rights Advocacy Project, and the Youth Advocacy Project.

Read the brief:
Commonwealth v. A.I. and A.W. Amicus Brief [pdf]

Oung et al. v. Lowell School Committee
The Massachusetts Court of Appeals upheld lower court and arbitration decisions ordering the Lowell School Committee to reinstate three AALDEF clients-two Cambodian American teachers and one Puerto Rican teacher–with full back pay, seniority, and benefits. School administrators singled out non-native English speaking educators in 2003 to take English fluency tests and then dismissed them for allegedly failing these flawed tests. The veteran teachers returned to the classroom in January 2007 and the teachers collected their judgment of 3 years’ back pay in December 2008 after the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts declined to hear the case on further appellate review.

Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District, Meredith v. Jefferson County Schools Amicus Brief
In 2007, AALDEF filed an amicus brief on behalf of 14 Asian American youth-serving organizations across the country in this United States Supreme Court case concerning voluntary racial integration plans in public schools. Although the Court ultimately struck down the challenged plans in Seattle, WA and Louisville, KY, a 5 member majority found a compelling government interest in diversity and racial integration. AALDEF has worked with local Asian American advocates in San Francisco and Chicago to maintain diversity in public schools.

Legislative and Administrative Advocacy

Department of Education Request for Information on Disaggregated Data Practices
AALDEF and the NAAEA Network collaborated with the United States Department of Education in July 2012 to identify and promote best practices and policies on collecting disaggregated educational data on Asian American public school students. Responding to a Department of Education initiative to collect information on best data collection practices, several NAAEA members submitted comments to the Department sharing their expertise and experience. For example, The Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM) and Vietnamese Young Leaders Association of New Orleans (VAYLA), submitted comments sharing their experiences with community-based research initiatives to collect ethnically disaggregated education data, as well as their advocacy campaigns for school districts and states to disaggregate education data by ethnicity. AALDEF and the NAAEA Network also submitted joint comments to the Department offering their collective perspective concerning underserved Asian American youth whose needs and experiences are masked by aggregated data.

Elementary and Secondary Education Act
AALDEF conducts federal legislative advocacy on the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, formerly known as the No Child Left Behind Act. In partnership with Southeast Asia Resource Action Center and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, AALDEF has submitted draft language for the Act’s provisions governing ethnic data disaggregation, English Language Learners and parent engagement. AALDEF has also submitted comments to the House and Senate on the Act’s reauthorization, as well as commented on regulatory changes.

Read AALDEF’s comments to the Senate on the Elementary and Secondary Education:
AALDEF Commends Iowa School District’s New English Language Learner Classification Policy [pdf]

Safe Schools Improvement Act
AALDEF is a member of the National Safe Schools Partnership, which advocates for passage of the Safe Schools Improvement Act. The Act would amend federal law to formally define harassment and bullying, as well as require school districts to implement clear policies concerning prevention and reporting of harassment and bullying.

Obama-Biden Presidential Transition White Paper
AALDEF released a Presidential Transition Team White Paper providing an overview of problems facing Asian American public school students and how they can be addressed by the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. NAAEA members signed on to this white paper which highlights local anecdotes illustrating the real world impact of educational policy decisions. AALDEF is also conducting briefings on the priorities set forth in our Presidential Paper with federal, state and local policymakers.

Read the Transition Team White Paper:
Recommendations for the Obama-Biden Transition Team: Asian Americans and Educational Equity [pdf]

Capacity Building and Community Education

National Asian American Advocates Network
The National Asian American Education Advocates Network (NAAEA Network), housed at AALDEF, is a broad collaborative of direct service providers, community-based organizations, youth and parent organizers, education lawyers and policy advocates working together to defend and protect the rights of Asian American students in kindergarten through 12th grade public education. The NAAEA Network believes that education is a basic human right. We seek to ensure that this right is guaranteed and protected for all Asian American youth, an extremely diverse community with specific challenges that often go unaddressed due to the model minority myth.

Working with Asian American youth across the country, NAAEA member organizations share their expertise and experiences with one another, provide support for each other’s campaigns and contribute their perspectives to national policy conversations. Staff and youth from member organizations gather periodically for a national summit to share experiences and best practices for serving and organizing Asian American youth. At the most recent summit, in April 2012, staff and youth from seventeen organizations representing ten states traveled to New York City for conversations and workshops on issues ranging from racial profiling to young women’s and LGBTQ issues.

South Philadelphia High School Asian Student Advocates (SASA)
Working closely with community-based organizations in Philadelphia, AALDEF is an organizational member of the South Philadelphia High School Asian Student Advocates (SASA). SASA is a coalition of community organizations and individuals working to address rampant anti-Asian and anti-immigrant violence at South Philadelphia High School. SASA works closely with and supports the efforts of the Asian Student Association of Philadelphia (ASAP), a group founded by local student organizers in the months following anti-Asian assaults and an eight-day student boycott in December 2009. Other organizational members of SASA include: Asian Americans United, Boat People SOS, and Victim/Witness Services of South Philadelphia.


One Step Forward, Half a Step Back (2013)
Bullying in New York City Schools: Educators Speak Out (2009-10)
Bias-based Harassment in New York City Public Schools: A Report Card on the Department of Education’s Implementation of Chancellor’s Regulation A-832 (2009)
Pursuant to a long advocacy and community organizing campaign by AALDEF and partners such as the Sikh Coalition, the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families and New York Civil Liberties Union, the New York City Department of Education issued Chancellors Regulation A-832 addressing bias-based harassment in 2008. Each academic year, our coalition of advocates issues a report on the status of the regulation’s implementation.

Read our 2009, 2010, and 2013 reports on harassment in New York City public schools here:
One Step Forward, Half a Step Back 2013
Bullying in NYC Schools 2010 [pdf]
Bias-Based Harassment 2009 [pdf]

Asian American Educational Attainment and Earning Power In Post-Racial America
This policy paper on educational achievement and earning power of Asian Americans challenges the model minority stereotype of Asian Americans as universally high achievers. The policy brief, written by Alejandro Covarrubias at Inspire and Daniel Liou at Arizona State University, highlights new statistics from Covarrubias and Liou’s in-depth study “Asian American Education and Income Attainment in the Era of Post-Racial America,” released by Teachers College at Columbia University, a peer-reviewed journal in the field of education.

Click here to read the policy paper.

Language Access Toolkit: An Organizing and Advocacy Resource For Community-Based Youth Programs
The Language Access Toolkit is a manual to guide community-based youth programs in their efforts to obtain equal linguistic access to kindergarten through 12th grade public education. Crafted in collaboration with Asian American education advocates and youth service providers in our National Asian American Education Advocates (NAAEA) Network, the manual addresses the urgent civil rights violation of schools failing to provide language access to education, which disengages parents and students alike in the process. The manual includes a basic introduction to federal and state laws on access to education, as well as strategies and sample materials to use in community organizing and advocacy campaigns for improved interpretation and translation infrastructures. It shows students and community-based organizations how to tailor their campaigns to their unique environments and specific needs.

Click here to read the Language Access Toolkit.

Empty Promises: A Case Study of Restructuring and the Exclusion of English Language Learners in Two Brooklyn High Schools
AALDEF monitors the ongoing reorganization of New York City public schools, a process by which many large schools serving a disproportionate number of English Language Learners have been closed, and subsequently replaced with schools without capacity to serve such students. In 2009, we issued a joint report with Advocates for Children entitled “Empty Promises: A Case Study of Restructuring and the Exclusion of English Language Learners in Two Brooklyn High Schools,” which examines the closure of Lafayette High School and Tilden High School in Brooklyn, and their subsequent replacement with small schools. The report also sets forth recommendations on how to better plan for English Language Learners’ needs in the school closure and transformation process.

Read our report:
Empty Promises Report [pdf]

Asian Youth Unite Against Hate Violence
AALDEF produced “Asian Youth Unite Against Hate Violence,” a skit-based youth training video about harassment in public schools. AALDEF’s high school interns wrote and acted out these skits based on their real life experiences. The video is narrated by actor B.D. Wong and contains a soundtrack featuring recording artists Jin and Blue Scholars. AALDEF has conducted trainings across the country using this video.

Left In The Margins: Asian American Students and the No Child Left Behind Act
AALDEF published a report on the controversial No Child Left Behind Act’s (NCLB) impact on diverse Asian American communities. Highlighting disaggregated data about the educational experiences of Asian Americans, AALDEF bursts the model minority myth and presents policy changes needed to amend NCLB and create meaningful education reform.

Read our report:
Left In The Margins: Asian American Students and the No Child Left Behind Act [pdf]