(CN) - The 5th Circuit scrapped a court-ordered plan to overhaul Texas' struggling bilingual education program, but left the door open for local school districts and state educational agencies to take up the case.
The federal appeals court in New Orleans overturned a federal judge's ruling that the Texas Education Agency failed to "take appropriate action" in helping students with limited English proficiency (LEP) overcome language barriers.
The circuit court acknowledged that LEP student performance was "alarming" state-wide, but ordered the lower court to reconsider adding local school districts to the case for a better read on "the cause of LEP student failure and how best to remedy it."
The state's bilingual program was challenged by G.I. Forum and LULAC, two groups representing Mexican-American students. They claimed Texas violated the Equal Educational Opportunity Act (EEOA), which requires a state agency "to take appropriate action to overcome language barriers."
Their 2006 lawsuit was an offshoot of a lawsuit filed four decades ago, in 1970, over nine all-black school districts in northeastern Texas. That lawsuit resulted in a modified order allowing the district court to supervise several aspects of the state's educational system and policies.
G.I. Forum and LULAC twice sued to have the order enforced, claiming the state denied equal educational opportunities to Mexican-American students.
The district court agreed that too many LEP students were performing poorly, particularly secondary students. The court ordered the state to "establish a new monitoring system and establish a language program that fulfill the requirements of the EEOA."
On appeal, the 5th Circuit found several flaws with the district court's findings, mainly with the evidence it used to conclude that the state was complying with federal law.
"[W]e hold that the evidence relied upon by the district court does not establish that TEA [Texas Enforcement Agency] has failed to take 'appropriate action' to overcome language barriers nor does it establish that TEA has somehow abdicated its responsibility in monitoring the secondary LEP program," Judge William Garwood wrote.
The court reversed and remanded, saying an "appropriate analysis" of the federal claims "should be conducted with regard to a particular district or districts, with state educational agencies serving as additional parties."