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Press Release

Justice Department Files Consent Decree to Ensure Equal Educational Opportunities for All English Learner Students in San Francisco

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

The Justice Department announced that it has sought court approval today of a comprehensive modified consent decree in the landmark case of Lau v. Nichols, in which the Supreme Court held that public schools must provide meaningful access to their educational programs for English Learner (EL) students.  The proposed modified consent decree would require the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) to provide language services to the more than 16,000 EL students enrolled in its 105 regular education schools and five court (i.e., serving detained and incarcerated students) and county schools. 

The proposed modified consent decree was jointly filed by the department, SFUSD and the private plaintiffs, and would replace a 2008 court order.  The proposed modified consent decree resulted from monitoring by the department and the private plaintiffs, and from SFUSD’s own recognition that the 2008 order needed to be updated to reflect current circumstances. 

The proposed modified consent decree would require the district to implement comprehensive measures to ensure that ELs have equal opportunities to succeed academically in district educational programs.  If approved by the court, the modified consent decree would require SFUSD to: 

  • ensure that EL students are appropriately identified and placed when they begin school;
  • provide families with a suite of service options for their EL students’ education;
  • ensure that EL students with disabilities receive language programs and services;
  • require employees who serve EL students to have training appropriate to their roles;
  • protect the educational rights of the district’s most at-risk and vulnerable EL students who are learning in alternative education or juvenile justice settings;
  • communicate with Limited English Proficient families in a language they understand; and
  • conduct robust monitoring.

“Today, the San Francisco Unified School District made important strides toward promoting the success of every student from the moment the child enters the district,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division.  “As the American dream is rooted in education, we commend the district for taking this critical step toward ensuring that all students, no matter their language background, have an equal opportunity to access that dream.”

“The department applauds the Superintendent and Board of Education for agreeing to take these significant steps to fulfill the promise of the Supreme Court's holding in Lau,” said U. S. Attorney Melinda Haag of the Northern District of California.  “Faithful implementation of this decree will ensure that all EL students are appropriately identified and served, and that Limited English Proficient families have an equal ability to participate in their child’s education.”

The enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 are top priorities of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  Additional information about these statutes and the obligations of school districts and states to EL students is available at, and general information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its website at

Updated August 4, 2015

Press Release Number: 15-796