SFUSD Recognizes 50th Anniversary of Landmark U.S. Supreme Court Ruling for Multilingual Learners

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San Francisco (January 22, 2024) - The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) is recognizing the 50th anniversary of the Lau v. Nichols Consent Decree in 1974, which required the district to ensure that all multilingual learners (MLs) had access to the core curriculum by providing appropriate instructional services. The historic U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Jan. 21, 1974 continues to require school districts across the country to take affirmative action to provide programs and services for multilingual learners and their families.

After over 45 years of compliance with the federal mandate that SFUSD provide services for multilingual learners, the district was released from its Court-supervised obligations in June 2019, and reaffirmed its investment in a comprehensive system of support for multilingual learners.

On Oct. 10, 2023, the San Francisco Board of Education adopted the district’s Roadmap for Multilingual Learner (ML) Achievement and Success, which replaced the English Learner plan developed under the Lau Consent Decree and marked a shift from the district’s approach to providing services and supports for multilingual learners. Developing the plan involved a multi-year process that engaged students, educators, and education partners, including the District English Learner Advisory Committee and student fellows. An English learner plan approved by the school board is a requirement for every school district in California.

“In SFUSD we are committed to ensuring the success of our multilingual learners with the Multilingual Learner Roadmap as our guide,” Superintendent Dr. Matt Wayne said. “Here in SFUSD we enroll students who speak dozens of different languages and our public schools benefit greatly from this diversity. In fact, one of SFUSD’s five core values is that we are diversity-driven. We aim to develop multilingualism and multiculturalism in our students to ensure they are prepared to succeed in the 21st century.”

The Lau v. Nichols case was initiated in the 1970s by Chinese parents because the district did not provide services for multilingual learners. The Lau Consent Decree was unique to SFUSD and after 45 years, ended on June 30, 2019. This monumental court case is now the basis for state and federal guidelines that outline multilingual learner services.

“Our district has transformed since 50 years ago when this consent decree was established,” SF Board of Education President Lainie Motamedi said. “We are now a district that is focused on building and maintaining a comprehensive system of support for multilingual learners. We will continue to build on promising practices that have effectively addressed the needs of multilingual learners and their families.”

A year after the consent decree was approved, SFUSD adopted its first Master Plan for K-12 Bilingual Bicultural Education, which included the provision of language programs and English Language Development (ELD) for all multilingual learners. In 2008 and again in 2015, the district and Lau Plaintiffs jointly submitted modified Lau plans which outlined a comprehensive system of support for MLs. In addition to ML assessments, professional development, and instruction, each revised plan included protocols for family communication and engagement, access for MLs with Individual Education Programs (IEPs), and monitoring activities to inform current practices.

SFUSD’s new Roadmap for Multilingual Learners Achievement and Success focuses on the strengths that diverse students bring to the classroom in providing services and support to multilingual learners. One notable change is the terminology used in referring to English language learners with the use of Multilingual Learners instead of English Learners. The term multilingual learner is a more inclusive, asset-based, and holistic term that celebrates students’ home languages and cultures and learning of English as a new language.

Learn more about how this case impacted multilingual communities at the next “Chinatown Rising” movie event on Jan. 31, 2024 at Gordon J. Lau Elementary School. Get details and RSVP for the event here.