RALEIGH, N.C. — Two legal advocacy groups have filed a federal civil rights complaint against North Carolina's largest school system alleging discrimination against Latino students and their families.
The complaint filed against the Wake County Public School System by Legal Aid of North Carolina and the Southern Poverty Law Center asks the U.S. Department of Education to require the system to provide documents sent home about suspensions and special education services in Spanish for parents with limited proficiency in English.
The complaint names three Wake students – two ninth graders and a sixth grader – who were informed in English that they were being suspended for the remainder of the school year. Letters in English were sent home to their parents, who couldn't read them, the groups allege.
Legal Aid of North Carolina spokeswoman Peggy Nicholson said the practice violates federal law.
"If these parents don't get these important notices in a language that they can understand, they can't be advocates for their children," Nicholson said.
She said that once the letters were translated and students were able to get legal help, two out of the three suspensions were dropped.
"The delay between when the suspension took place and when the hearing was finally held was much longer than it probably would have been if the mother had been able to understand right off the bat what she needed to do," Nicholson said.
A Wake County schools spokeswoman said the district is taking the complaint seriously and is committed to providing support for parents with limited English proficiency.
"WCPSS staff, from the central office to the school level, are actively reviewing our practices to ensure we are meeting families' needs at every opportunity," spokeswoman Samiha Khanna said in a statement.
She added that the district was disappointed by the complaint, but eager to work with the Office of Civil Rights to resolve it.
Latinos account for about 15 percent of the district's student population, with about half of those children having limited proficiency in English.